Photo illustration courtesy of Nvidia

Mercedes Benz is teaming up with Nvidia to create a perpetually upgradable computing platform for vehicles that will allow cars to add automated driving functions over time, becoming smarter and more valuable the longer they are on the road.

Why it matters: Self-driving technology won't arrive in a snap. Instead, it will roll out gradually through periodic software updates, similar to the way people refresh their smartphones. It's a fundamental shift in thinking that will extend the life of cars, and allow even used-car buyers to get the latest technologies.

The big picture: Tesla already enables over-the-air updates on its vehicles, a benefit of designing its automotive computing platform from scratch.

  • Other carmakers are racing to catch up, but must transition from legacy engineering platforms to newer electrical architectures capable of supporting the huge computing needs of automated driving technology.
  • Mercedes and Nvidia said their new platform would be "the most sophisticated and advanced computing architecture ever deployed in an automobile."

Details: The new AI computing infrastructure will be rolled out across Mercedes' entire fleet of models, starting in 2024.

  • A key feature will be the ability of cars to drive themselves on regular routes from one address to another, the companies said.
  • Other safety and convenience features will be available for purchase or subscription, including ones that haven't been invented yet.
  • Even second and third owners of a Mercedes vehicle will be able to add features or subscribe to services they desire.

The backdrop: Mercedes' partnership with Nvidia comes less than a week after the German automaker abandoned what was meant to be a long-term collaboration with BMW to develop next-generation automated driving technology.

  • It's the latest in a series of future mobility projects that have fizzled between the German rivals.
  • Mercedes spokesman Bernhard Wardin said the companies' timing didn't align. "BMW wanted to stick with their technology for a longer time, and we wanted to update our system for 2024."
  • BMW said it is confident in the autonomous technology it is developing through an existing partnership with Intel, Mobileye, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ansys.

What to watch: If cars can be perpetually updated, there's less of an incentive to replace them. Carmakers will need to ensure the revenue stream from those software updates is sufficient to make up for lower vehicle turnover.

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