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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

AVs have to interpret sensor data, determine their next moves and follow through on them, all of which requires exceedingly complex AI. To meet those demands in real time, computing for AVs will have to happen onboard the vehicle.

Why it matters: The alternative to onboard computing for driving functions would be vehicles relying on unstable network bandwidth for cloud computing while cruising at highway speeds. A specialized AI chip market has emerged to create platforms that can perform these complex computations almost instantaneously, while using as little power as possible.

Where it stands: More than 70 companies have entered the AI chip market in the last few years, and another 100 chip startups have been announced. The next generation of chips could have an array of uses, beyond advancing AV computing power.

  • Nvidia is dominant in the GPU space. It offers a computing platform with a plethora of chip offerings for deep learning that take advantage of GPUs' massive parallel computation abilities. Next-generation technology, however, will introduce more efficient chip architectures designed expressly for deep neural network computation rather than graphics processing.
  • Google has developed a circuit called a Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) that has run common neural networks 15–30 times faster than a comparable GPU, and used far less power to do so.
  • Graphcore, a startup, develops accelerators and software framework together, which arguably combine to make the fastest and most flexible platform for AI applications. Graphcore has developed an Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU), which offers promise for AV use.

What to watch: Roughly 12–15 companies are pulling ahead with their next-generation AI chips, but solidifying a lead will require producing and scaling them as well, which could favor established players or motivate smaller companies to merge with larger ones, as Nervana Systems and Intel did.

Bibhrajit Halder is the CEO of an early-stage AV startup and has worked on autonomous vehicles at Ford, Caterpillar and Apple. He is also a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.

Go deeper

UN poll: Most see climate change as global emergency amid pandemic

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) fronts a Fridays For Future protest at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm in September. Photo: Jonathan Nacksrtrand/AFP via Getty Images

64% of people from around the world say climate change is a global emergency, a United Nations poll published Wednesday finds.

Why it matters: It's biggest global survey on climate change ever conducted, with some 1.2 million participants from 50 countries — including the U.S. where 65% of those surveyed view climate change as an emergency.

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.

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