Why the Gaming Industry Sets the Foundation For Tomorrow’s Smart Cars

by Danny Shapiro

With the launch last week of Maxwell, our 10th generation GPU architecture, you may still think of NVIDIA as just a video game graphics company. With our long history of innovation in the gaming world, it’s easy to understand why.

What may surprise you is that our automotive business is one of the fastest growing parts of our company. And our experience in gaming, including the power of Maxwell, plays a key role in the future of car technologies.

NVIDIA, of course, has no intention of making video games available to drivers while they’re behind the wheel. But we are using innovations from gaming to create the intelligent digital cockpits and advanced driver assist systems that play a critical role in making cars smarter.

Some of the reasons that games are compelling—and millions of people love playing them—are innovations like high-resolution graphics, real-time rendering and sophisticated algorithms that produce real-world visual effects.

These technologies are now migrating into cars, in part because customers expect the same level of computing experience that they have in their home, office or even in their pocket to be available while they’re driving.

Speedometer infographic
Pedal to the metal: Our experience in gaming plays a key role in the future of car technologies.

Plus, the newest vehicles require high-quality graphics and computing power to keep pace with new capabilities, such as 3D navigation, photorealistic digital cockpits and surround-view camera systems.

Video games have driven big improvements in 3D graphics. From 8-bit graphics years ago to immersive 4K experiences that Maxwell powers today, NVIDIA technology has pushed the state of the art. Every gamer, and moviegoer for that matter, is familiar with computer-generated images—from NFL quarterbacks in the latest Madden Football game, to Marvel Comics super-heroes on the big screen—that look like they could be photographs.

NVIDIA graphics technology is used by game developers and visual effects artists throughout their development processes. Maxwell features a new technique called Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing (MFAA) that produces incredible image quality while maintaining the high performance required for complex graphics rendering, such as for a car’s speedometer.

Similarly, by leveraging the process of rendering realistic 3D graphics, the more that a car’s information system can help drivers visualize their environment, the safer their driving will become. That means delivering richly detailed, high-resolution dashboard visuals and alerts that drivers need to glance at only briefly, so they can immediately return to the task of safely steering their vehicle and its passengers.

For instance, with Maxwell’s Voxel Global Illumination (VXGI) technology, the potential to deliver more realistic lighting for digital dashboards could make a significant difference in a driver’s ability to get needed information with just a simple glance.

Real-time processing is a staple of video games, which need to respond instantly to player commands. This requires massive amounts of computing power, something NVIDIA achieves with “parallel processing,” or putting many separate graphics cores inside the same chip.

The latest Tegra mobile processor has 192 graphics cores, each a tiny engine dedicated to a particular part of an image. Working in unison, they can render complex, high-resolution images, or stitch together video from multiple cameras into a single seamless image in real time. The result can be a driver vision assistance system that monitors a complete, 360-degree view of what’s going on around the car, eliminating blind spots.

Not only are processors becoming faster, but the software we are developing is getting smarter. NVIDIA GameWorks technology takes cutting-edge ideas from mathematics and uses them to bring realistic behavior to moving objects such as hair, clothes, smoke, fire and water. You won’t see those in a car dashboard, of course, but the same NVIDIA engineering skills are helping car makers create “virtual” digital displays that look like physical ones but perform much better.

Our Material Definition Language—which simulates how light reflects and refracts from real materials—lets designers craft digital gauges that can mimic the look of anything from copper and titanium to brushed aluminum and carbon fiber. Libraries of photo-realistic material give designers a broad range of options. This, in turn, gives designers more freedom than they’ve ever had before and could let drivers customize their cars to suit their own tastes.

So, believe it or not, we have video games, and the millions of gamers out there, to thank for many of the innovations that are making your cars more capable, informative and customizable. And helping you be a better driver.