This week we had a conversation with Luis Dib, a Brazilian engineer who’s been living in the Silicon Valley for 15 years. Luis is a Sr. Embedded System Software Engineer at NVIDIA.
BayBrazil: What is your role at Nvidia?
Luis: Currently working as lead engineer for system software (meaning everything that is not graphics or multimedia – storage, temperature control, memory access, system stability) in the Audi automotive projects based on the Tegra processors.
BayBrazil: Which models will incorporate this technology?
Luis: Several Audi car models will have entertainment and control systems powered by these processors. Initially, only high end models, spreading later to more mid and entry level ones. Since VW owns Audi, we’ll also see some VW models containing similar equipment, which are definitely more popular. And more popular companies are already lining up to benefit from this technology as well, with projects kicking off as we speak.
The Audi product is already starting production in Asia and Europe. It will be available in 2013 in the USA. One of the most interesting features of the system is the integration with Google Earth to show 3D images of the locations the car is going through. This requires large amounts of storage, connectivity and graphics processing, which Nvidia’s automotive processors are well equipped to handle. It offers Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity, integrated support for iPod, capability to play media from DVDs and SD cards, besides climate control and car instrumentation.
BayBrazil: Are these chips similar to the ones used in cell phones?
Luis: Yes. We are talking about the same processors used in Android cell phones and tablets (dual and quad-core), with the difference that they are qualified for the automotive industry: instead of lasting a couple years, these product will last 15 years and support a wider temperature range. While personal computing items mentioned are usually close to the user’s body, which implies more mild temperatures, automobiles may be left outside for long periods under inclement weather. That’s one of the challenges. Other challenge is the noise produced by the motor engine, which may interfere. And in some countries, especially in Europe, eliminating waste of energy is crucial due to their green policies, which is pushing the envelope in terms of minimizing power consumption. Definitely the automotive industry is very stringent with quality and durability.
BayBrazi: What are other car makers that will use this technology?
Luis: Currently Tesla, Audi, VW and BMW (also Skoda in Europe) are the ones that can be disclosed. More companies are lining up to adopt it, each with different propositions and usage models. One of the challenges for us is that we need to support multiple operating systems, which implies different teams within our embedded division working to attack problems in different environments. There are already consortiums of companies organizing to come up with standard platforms for automotive software development, so we can say that after computers, cell phones and tablets, the car is the next software platform.
BayBrazil: So, are the days of traditional dashboard gauges numbered?
Luis: Similarly to cathode tube TVs being replaced by LCD and LED TV’s, we’ll see the standard needles that show very basic information in the car dash being gradually replaced a much richer interface. That will be available initially in high end automobiles and eventually in mid range as optionals. I have no crystal ball, but similar to other items that today are standard in vehicles (such as AC and electric windows) we’ll likely see this technology become commonplace in most cars at some point down the road. Especially once the technology shows its capability to save lives (for instance by having real time image analysis systems for collision avoidance, or detection of whether the driver is dozing off) it’s usefulness will become very obvious.
BayBrazil: How are in-vehicle infotainment systems impacting the decision of consumers looking for a new car?
Luis: This is a very desirable item for those who like to hit the roads with families, due to the multiple entertainment possibilities. I believe it makes a world of difference for the buyer when he or she has to decide between a model that has these features and one that does not, even if for a slightly higher cost. Curiously, there are models with dual display that allow the motorist to see the car control screen from his seat, while the passenger watches a movie, all in the same screen (the image changes based on the angle it’s watched from).
BayBrazil: You are working in the Santa Clara office. Are groups from other regions and countries contributing to this technology? Who is leading the innovations in this sector?
Luis: There were past attempts at this, but only now with the scale of integration that’s possible with the current generation of system-on-chip processors you’ll see serious inroads into making the car the next computing frontier. Nvidia has been one of the pioneers.
In terms of other countries and regions, our projects are global efforts. Germans are in charge of the hardware, Indians and Americans in charge of the software and chip design, Taiwanese in charge of chip manufacturing, Chinese and Europeans in charge of board production, Canadians in charge of the operating system, and so on.
BayBrazil: You were born in Sao Paulo. How do you see the appeal of these futuristic cars in countries like Brazil or other emerging markets? Will those cars be just a dream for most consumers?
Luis: Brazil is a nation of eager early adopters where certainly the technology would be welcome, but for now since the manufacturers adopting the technology are mostly in the high end, it is natural that the cars sporting the technology are being launched in markets with a significantly large number of affluent consumers. Currently China and other countries in Asia fit the bill and the products are being made available in that market first (of course in Europe as well, where Audi has its headquarters). Next year is the USA’s turn. Unfortunately I can’t precise when the models will be selling in Latin America and Brazil.
BayBrazil: What is your advice to Brazilian students pursuing Engineering?
Luis: If you enjoy software development, go for it because there is an explosion of CPUs happening in the world today and all those CPUs still need plenty of people to program them. I mean not only in computers and tablets, but many other CPUs that we are not even aware of their presence, but which are part of everyone’s lives.