Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang unveiled a powerful mobile graphics chip that aims to transform the look and feel of video games and to power photorealistic digital dashboards and promote self-driving cars in the not so distant future.
But the new Tegra K1, which boasts 192 cores, may be generate more attention in the short term for being the inspiration for a marketing stunt that saw the creation of a mysterious crop circle in a small town in Northern California before the new year.
“Tegra K1 is probably the most ambitious project we’ve ever worked on,” said Huang at a Sunday night press event that pretty much marked the opening of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “It’s impossibly advanced.”
Nvidia, whose processors have primarily been used for PC gaming, supercomputing and workstation applications, is counting on the Tegra K1 to help expand its presence in the smartphone market, a point Huang drove home repeatedly by noting that the new chip “brings next generations graphic on a mobile device for the first time.” It’s built around a graphic processing unit that Nvidia says uses the power-efficient, high-performance Kepler architecture that drives the world’s most powerful supercomputers and PC gaming systems. And it’s the first chip, he said, to be shown running Google’s Android operating system in 64-bit mode.
Morgan Stanley analyst Joseph Moore called it an “intriguing product” but noted that Nvidia’s investment in Tegra chips is “very high and are likely to remain a significant headwind to earnings. Despite our estimate of 35 percent growth next year, we are still at about half of breakeven levels.”
Huang also said the Tegra K1 can be used to power camera-based, advanced driver assistance (ADAS) systems based on Android that offer features such as pedestrian detection, collision avoidance and blind spot monitoring. The company is working on an effort called Project Mercury to show automakers how the chip can be used with Nvidia’s Material Definition Language — which simulates how light reflects and refracts off of actual materials such as leather and aluminum — to allow for the creation of photo-realistic digital cockpits with gauges, controls and dials that have been customized by the driver. Nvidia says it already has partnerships with more than 20 carmakers, who have used its technology in more than 100 models.
“Audi and NVIDIA have a long, deep partnership, in which we’ve utilized three generations of Tegra to bring industry-leading capabilities to the instrument cluster, infotainment and rear seat entertainment systems,” said Ricky Hudi, chief executive engineer of electrics/electronics at Audi AG. “Tegra K1 opens a new chapter for Audi to deliver revolutionary supercomputing advances to the car, paving the way to piloted driving experiences.”
As for the crop circle, Huang said he told his publicity team to dream up a marketing campaign to promote the new chip without spending much money. The result was a crop circle, created with a team of crop circle experts, in a barley field about two hours south of San Francisco in the town of Chualar. The crop circle made a local splash after reporters deciphered the image and noted that it showed the number 192 – the number of cores in the new Tegra K1 — in Braille.
“People thought aliens had done it,” Huang said.