Call it the ultimate mobile device. Yes, it has four wheels, four doors and a place to store luggage; but when you slip behind the wheel of theModel S electric sedan, you feel more like you're taking the helm of a starship.
Rather than staring at twitchy analog dials and gauges, a high-resolution digital display puts the car’s speed, range, audio controls, trip information and more in front of the driver in clear, crisp color.
And rather than a center stack cluttered with clicky plastic knobs and switches, thehas a 17-in. (43-cm) touchscreen that smoothly morphs into whatever is needed at the moment, whether it's directions, courtesy of Google, or the ability to adjust the sunroof with a swipe of your finger.
The Tesla Model S is only one example of the science-fiction-like stuff that's already on the road, as auto makers pour technology from smartphones and tablets into automobiles.
Powerful mobile chips like NVIDIA's Tegra processors are being matched with mobile applications consumers already enjoy, such as Google Earth and Pandora, with advanced wireless data services.
And consumers are hungry for more. More than half of car owners find that integrated in-vehicle connectivity makes driving more enjoyable and makes them feel safer while on the road.
According to the same 2012 Harris Poll, when it comes to new-car purchase decisions, two in three car owners between 18 and 35 say their vehicle's technology has a significant influence on the next car they choose.
“Technology is becoming more important as a quality differentiator,” says David Sargent, vice president-global automotive at consultant J.D. Power and Associates. “This is really where the battleground is now.”
But while the digital devices consumers carry with them in their pockets are radically changing their expectations, auto makers won’t have to remake their cars at the same frenetic pace we’re seeing in smartphones and tablets.
Instead, vehicle manufacturers are taking advantage of innovations such as our Visual Computing Module (VCM), allowing them to keep pace with the latest mobile technologies and easily bring new innovations to market faster.
That's bringing advanced features once associated with luxury marques into the mainstream.
TheGolf, a car that starts at well under $20,000, offers a new infotainment system with a responsive touchscreen display driven by a Tegra mobile processor, the same processor architecture found in today's smartphones and tablets.
And there’s much more coming. Our new Jetson development platform aims to offer auto makers a look at the road ahead by giving them access to the technologies that will appear in the future generations of mobile devices. This gives them the ability to emulate processors that won't be available for a year, but they can start their development today.
These are technologies originally born on supercomputers and that promise to unlock a new generation of visual computing for pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and collision avoidance. Combine these technologies and you're looking at autonomous driving.
They also promise to help bind cars ever more tightly to next-generation media and entertainment services. Within the next few years, backseat passengers will be able to take advantage of sophisticated video-streaming services.
Over time, these cloud-based services will do more than just replace portable DVD players. Two-way video communication links and interactive games are coming, too.
Researchers also are building mockups of systems that will turn the windshield itself into a display. A new category of in-vehicle augmented reality applications will be enabled by advances in both visual processing and display technologies. Furthermore, new, processing-intensive means of input such as gestures, voice commands and even eye movements will make cars safer.
These systems will do more than just sharpen the driver's senses; they promise to turn the car into a guide to the world around them. In effect, your car becomes the mobile device that drives you.
Danny Shapiro is director of NVIDIA’s Automotive Business Unit, focusing on solutions that enable faster and better design of automobiles, as well as in-vehicle solutions for infotainment, navigation, digital instrument clusters and advanced driver-assistance systems.