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Isuzu taps Nvidia for truck self-driving breakthrough

Partners aim to apply data from passenger cars to commercial vehicles

The Japanese government has pushed for the development of self-driving commercial vehicles.

TOKYO -- Isuzu Motors will join with chipmaker Nvidia on self-driving technology, particularly on helping autonomous systems learn how to drive trucks and other large commercial vehicles based on data collected by passenger vehicles.

The companies have entered final negotiations regarding the usage of collected data and ownership of the final product, with collaboration to begin as early as this year. Isuzu will have exclusive rights to the resulting technology among Japanese commercial vehicle makers.

Self-driving vehicles use attached cameras and sensors to collect data on the surrounding environment, which in turn dictates their steering, accelerating and braking. To ensure that vehicles detect objects accurately and make correct judgments, artificial intelligence systems must learn massive sets of driving data. Nvidia commands a big market share for these systems that serve as the "brain" of autonomous driving.

The problem is that driving data from passenger cars cannot directly be applied to trucks because their bigger bodies require sensors and cameras to be attached to different places -- which means camera views are different, as are the angles of obstacles ahead. Truck bodies increase blind spots and may interrupt electromagnetic waves from sensors as well.

The partners will work on creating technology for processing Nvidia's data on passenger cars for use in trucks. Nvidia systems will be installed in Isuzu trucks to collect data.

It is currently a challenge to collect the vast amount of data AI systems need to learn defensive driving for trucks, because there are far fewer trucks than passenger cars on the road. Even Daimler, the world's largest truck manufacturer, sells just around 500,000 commercial vehicles a year. Using passenger-car data for commercial vehicles would help accelerate development of autonomous trucks.

Given Japan's serious shortage of truck drivers, the government hopes to put driverless trucks on the road as early as 2025. Trials for preliminary technology are already underway.

Having ended a 12-year capital tie-up with Toyota Motor in August, Isuzu, a leading truck builder in Japan, is seeking new partners to develop next-generation technologies. It began talks this month for a partnership with U.S. engine manufacturer Cummins.

In electric vehicles, Isuzu is set to join a Toyota-led consortium on developing structural technologies. Together with the partnership with Nvidia, Isuzu is setting its sights on two of key growth areas in the automotive sector.

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