DARPA contracts Nvidia to make drones smarter

Nvidia has landed a $20 million contract with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to get to work on the development of embedded chips that are 75 times more powerful than current processors.

DARPA is hoping that research into embedded chip technology will lead to vast improvements in the ability of autonomous vehicles to process data from onboard sensors. This could mean creating more intelligent unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for example, able to analyse more data than can currently be processed in real time.

Nvidia said that existing embedded processors deliver roughly 1 gigaflops of performance per watt, but as part of its Project Osprey programme it would be aiming for 75 gigaflops per watt.

Nvidia said that it would be researching extremely efficient chip architectures, using production methods as advanced as 7 nanometre.  Nvidia is currently mass producing 28 nm chips through its foundry partners.

As well as creating more intelligent drones, the five year project is expected to result in innovations that will be passed on to consumer devices.

“The technologies developed with this program can transform the capabilities of embedded systems, making autonomous vehicles more practical and intelligent,” Steve Keckler, senior director of Architecture Research at NVIDIA, said.  “This research will help NVIDIA continue to advance mobile computing for both government and consumer applications.”

Nvidia chips are already used in a variety of embedded applications for military use, including aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor, and US Army tanks.

The Californian firm has also received a contract to develop supercomputing technology for DARPA in 2010, with a four year, $25 million research grant to produce GPUs for exascale computing.