Nvidia suspends autonomous car testing in wake of Uber fatality

28 Mar 2018239 Views

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Nvidia office in Santa Clara, California. Image: jeijim/Shutterstock

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Chipmaker Nvidia said it has suspended global self-driving vehicle testing.

In the days since an Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian, the ride-sharing company has paused its autonomous car plans and has also been forbidden from carrying out testing in the state for the foreseeable future.

Chipmaker Nvidia works with Uber, with the latter using some of the former’s self-driving technology. In the last number of months, many investors bet that the firm would become an industry leader in chips for data centres, autonomous cars and artificial intelligence.

Global testing put on hold

On 27 March, shares in Nvidia closed down 7.8pc, wiping out more than $11bn in market value, according to Reuters. The company has since said it will be pausing its testing, which had been underway in New Jersey, Germany, Japan and California.

A Nvidia spokesperson told The Verge: “The accident was tragic. It’s a reminder of how difficult SDC [self-driving car] technology is and that it needs to be approached with extreme caution and the best safety technologies.”

The spokesperson added: “We are temporarily suspending the testing of our self-driving cars on public roads to learn from the Uber incident. Our global fleet of manually driven data-collection vehicles continues to operate.”

Uber had said it would be incorporating Nvidia technologies in its eventual self-driving fleets of Volvos as well as the company’s self-driving trucks.

Fear and outrage

“Nvidia has no choice but to take steps in the context of the fear, uncertainty and outrage likely to be stimulated by a robot car killing a human being,” Roger Lanctot, an automotive technology analyst with Strategy Analytics, wrote.

Market analyst Kinngai Chan told Reuters he does not expect Nvidia’s earnings to be adversely affected by the incident.

At its recent GPU Technology Conference, Nvidia founder Jen-Hsun Huang said safety was the biggest issue at hand: “This is the ultimate deep-learning AI problem. We have to manage faults even when we detect them. The bar for functional safety is really, really high. We’ve dedicated our last five to seven years to understanding this system. We are trying to understand this from end to end.”

Toyota is also pausing its testing of autonomous vehicles across the world.

Nvidia office in Santa Clara, California. Image: jeijim/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com