GPUs Help Mercedes Steer the Future of Car Design

by Tony Kontzer

Mercedes-Benz has long been on the cutting edge of designing concept cars.

Its latest version is a doozy, and attendees at our recent GPU Technology Conference got a chance to dive deep on its development.

The so-called Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile is a marvel of design, with a sleek exterior, vast expanses of glass and an impressive digital dashboard that responds to simple gestures. The many display screens deliver 4K imagery and disappear when no fingers are nearby, leaving what appears to be a black, glass surface.

There’s also eye-popping innovation in the area of aerodynamics. As it accelerates near 50 mph, the IAA morphs to reduce wind drag, stretching eight independent segments at its rear end by more than a foot, and extending flaps on the bumper by an inch or two.

From Design to Driving

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The IAA’s sleek interior features an NVIDIA-powered digital cockpit.

GTC attendees who filled a session to hear from Alex Hilliger Von Thile, senior manager of advanced graphics and rendering for Mercedes’ R&D unit, also heard about the role GPUs played in the car’s design.

NVIDIA technology came into play when Hilliger Von Thile’s team looked to work on conveying to the driver what’s happening outside of the car. To capture high-def video and deliver it to the dashboard in real time, they needed a supercomputer for the car.

As it happened, NVIDIA was about to bring its DRIVE PX autonomous driving platform to market. DRIVE PX fuses data from up to a dozen cameras, as well as sensor data, and algorithms analyze the environment surrounding the vehicle to produce a high-resolution representation.

From Movies to a Mercedes

Mercedes-Benz rendering demo
NVIDIA tech helps Mercedes-Benz with everything from concept car design to digital dashboards.

Having adopted DRIVE PX for the IAA, the Mercedes design team then worked with design software-maker The Foundry, which applied its own technology to the data generated by DRIVE PX to deliver high-end compositing, lighting, rendering and texture.

The Foundry, whose software is used in many Hollywood movies, had to solve some latency issues in moving data between the tools. Getting past that obstacle enabled them to do more passes in presenting the data visually, improving quality and accuracy.

“The more you can iterate, the better the final result is,” said Foundry Senior Software Engineer Vilya Harvey.

The result of the collaboration is a car that’s designed for a new era of driving, one in which Mercedes expects people to see vehicles less as a mobile living space.

Said Hilliger Von Thile: “We tried to envision a car for when autonomous driving is a regular thing.”