Toyota Will Test Its Autonomous Cars in Nvidia’s New Self-Driving Car Simulator

The simulator can recreate specific scenarios without the added cost of real-world testing, and without endangering human lives.

byStephen Edelstein|
Self-Driving Tech photo

Nvidia is launching a self-driving car simulation platform called Drive Constellation, and Toyota will be its first customer. The Japanese automaker's TRI-AD (Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development) division will use Drive Constellation to conduct virtual testing, which has become a valuable tool for speeding up the development of autonomous cars. Toyota's adoption of the simulator is part of an ongoing partnership between the automaker and Nvidia.

Simulations can help "train" autonomous-driving systems for different scenarios without the time and expense needed for real-world testing. Waymo, for example, claims that cars have covered millions of virtual miles in its simulators. They also allow engineers to program specific scenarios, rather than waiting for a car to encounter them in the real world, all without putting human beings at risk if something goes wrong.

Drive Constellation is based around side-by-side servers. One server, called Constellation Simulator, runs DriveSim software that generates the sensor data that makes up the virtual environment. That data is then fed into a second server, Constellation Vehicle, that processes the data and makes decisions the way a self-driving car control system would.

Toyota already uses Nvidia Drive AGX Xavier computers in its test vehicles, and the two companies will collaborate on artificial-intelligence computing for self-driving cars, a Nvidia press release said. The goal is to develop "an architecture that can be scaled across many vehicle models and types," accelerating development of autonomous vehicles.

Drive Constellation was announced roughly a year ago, shortly after an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. The fatal crash did not substantially slow the development of autonomous-driving tech, with many companies expanding their test programs in the following months. Uber itself was able to score a $500 million investment from Toyota, and eventually resumed testing in a diminished capacity.

Toyota is taking a somewhat different approach to autonomous driving than its rivals. While the automaker is developing a system that takes over driving responsibilities called "Chauffeur," and it is working on an alternative called "Guardian," that only intervenes when deemed necessary for safety reasons. Rather than replacing a human driver, Guardian is meant to provide backup. It's a potential way to increase safety and convenience, without humans having to give up driving completely.