Tesla realized three years ago they had to create their own hardware from the ground up to make full self-driving possible. After recruiting former Apple chip engineer Pete Bannon, Tesla started development of its in-house autonomy solution Hardware 3.0.
A neural net accelerator running at 2100 frames per second, which is critical to making full self-driving software recognize and react to various objects and scenarios, makes the new chip 21x more capable than previous generation hardware (2.5) designed by NVIDIA. Overall, 144 trillion operations are completed per second without impacting range and at a more modest production cost.
As for specifications, the chip utilized is a 14nm FinFET CMOS, 260mm in size with 250 million logic gates and six billion transistors. The neural network processor alone does 36 trillion operations per second at 2 GHz. An efficient H.265 video encoder is built-in, which will help with dash cam functionality and storing video to the cloud. Two CPU’s operate in lock step to ensure control validation and final drive control, which ensures predictability and consistency. There are two independent full self-driving computers with their own operating system on the hardware itself, along with a redundant power source which even in the event of failure makes the system “safer than if a person were to go unconscious.” A security system is also in place that only allows software to run on the hardware if it has been cryptographically signed by Tesla.
The new chip makes full self-driving possible safely and with the remarkable level of performance necessary for reliable autonomy. Production began last July, with employee retrofits taking place in December. It has been standard in all Model S/X vehicles shipping since March, and Model 3 starting this month.
Looking ahead to the future, Tesla is already working on a next-generation chip which will ship in two years that the company expects to be 3x better than Hardware 3.0.
Tesla was proactive in proving that they are more than a forward-thinking automotive brand. They saw that current third-party hardware couldn’t support their ambitious plans and decided to take matters into their own hands, ultimately succeeding by bringing to market the first computer platform capable of autonomous driving — which we should point out is currently available in every Tesla vehicle shipping today, and will be a plug-and-play upgrade for current owners who purchase the full self-driving functionality.
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