Self-Driving Cars

The looming chip boom

nvidia microchip for autonomous vehicles
Racing towards autonomy. Source: Reuters

Jensen Huang is not wanting for self-confidence. “If a problem is easy to solve, it doesn’t interest me,” the president, CEO and co-founder of California chip manufacturer Nvidia said in Munich on Tuesday. Seven years ago, the engineer set his sights on the seemingly impossible task of building the brain of a self-driving car.

Now the billionaire believes he’s on the verge of reaching his goal. “We still need to invest heavily for two or three more years, but then we will have achieved something really groundbreaking,” Mr. Huang said. With chips from Nvidia, he expects that by 2021, many cars will be able to pilot themselves while their drivers can lean back and take a nap.

Nvidia and the entire microchip industry are about to enjoy a gigantic upswing, thanks to the development of more and more electric and autonomous cars, analysts say. These cars of the future will need microchips to connect them to mobile wireless networks, process and store vast amounts of data, detect obstacles and regulate electricity consumption.

Electronics industry association ZVEI predicts that sales of microchips used in cars will increase worldwide, from just under $40 billion in 2016 to more than $51 billion in 2021. But this will only be the beginning of the boom. That’s when Mr. Huang expects electric and self-driving vehicles to achieve mainstream adoption. Today, the average new car contains just over $450 worth of semiconductors, three times as much as at the beginning of the century. According to the ZVEI, it will increase to just under $500 in five years’ time. “There is no end in sight to the trend,” the association said.

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