NVIDIA's (NVDA 2.75%) change of strategy in self-driving car technology is showing signs of paying off, which is why the chipmaker's latest partnership in this space isn't surprising at all. Japanese commercial vehicle giant Isuzu Motors is reportedly in the final stages of negotiating with NVIDIA to create self-driving technology specific to trucks, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
This is a step up from the earlier status of the partnership between the two companies. Isuzu was originally a part NVIDIA's hardware and software platform to collect data just like many other companies do. But now, Isuzu is planning to use the data collected by NVIDIA's platform to create a solution fit for deployment in self-driving trucks.
Breaking a barrier
The size of a truck creates a lot of complexity in the development of autonomous tech for it. For instance, a truck has blind spots that need to be filled by the placement of cameras and sensors. Additionally, sensor signals will need to travel a longer distance in the case of a truck, which could lead to a loss of signal fidelity and compromise the self-driving operation.
That's why a specific autonomous driving system needs to be created for trucks, one that operates in a different way than the ones for self-driving cars.
Isuzu is now looking to create a solution that can process NVIDIA's passenger car data for application in trucks. To do so, it will be installing NVIDIA's solutions into its own trucks as early as this year so that the autonomous system can learn to drive on its own using data collected by passenger cars.
Isuzu looks like the right partner for NVIDIA to make a breakthrough in this area. It manufactures over 600,000 commercial vehicles every year, including both light- and heavy-duty trucks, which means that it can collect a boatload of data for developing this technology with NVIDIA's help.
Assuming that the two companies find a way to run the autonomous driving system of large vehicles using passenger car data, it will be a big breakthrough for both of them. Isuzu will become the exclusive supplier of the end product among Japanese commercial vehicle companies, while NVIDIA will be able to pitch the same to its other partners across the globe and get access to a groundbreaking opportunity.
A truck-sized opportunity
One of the biggest reasons Isuzu is jumping seriously into the autonomous truck market is because it wants to overcome a crucial problem facing the trucking industry: driver shortage. Lack of qualified and experienced drivers means that truck sales would stall, which would eventually lead to big problems for Isuzu.
The shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. increased to nearly 300,000 during the second quarter of 2018, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence. This is a massive jump when we consider that the shortage was less than 10% of that number in the fourth quarter of 2015. This increase has been triggered by a variety of factors, such as regulated working hours, an aging workforce, and the fact that employee turnover typically stands at 90% in the long-haul trucking sector.
Autonomous trucks could provide the answer to this problem, though it can be safely said that they are far from getting on our roads anytime soon. Still, NVIDIA is doing the right thing by staying ahead of the game and tying up with key players. Even if it can only introduce a small element of self-driving capabilities into trucks that makes drivers' lives easier, it could make big money.
That's because the size of the autonomous truck market could hit $1.7 billion in size by 2025, according to Allied Market Research, up from an estimated $1 billion in 2020. By comparison, NVIDIA has generated just under $600 million from its auto business in the past year.
More importantly, Asia-Pacific and North America will be the fastest-growing markets for this technology, and NVIDIA has already made moves in both geographies to take a shot at this opportunity. Last year, NVIDIA partner PACCAR revealed that it had developed a prototype Level 4 self-driving truck that was capable of driving itself without any human intervention.
Swedish company Einride is also using NVIDIA's DRIVE platform to power its all-electric autonomous truck. This could be another big win for NVIDIA, as Einride aims to start delivering its self-driving trucks as soon as this year.
In all, NVIDIA is on track to solving a big problem with its Isuzu partnership -- one that could open the doors to a wide range of possibilities and give the graphics specialist's auto business a big shot in the arm.