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Why HPC Matters: Putting AI in the Driver’s Seat

Fueled by the power of high-performance computing systems, artificial intelligence is increasingly used to drive commercial, industrial and personal vehicles.

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Dell EMC

Imagine a world in which self-driving vehicles build maps of their own environment and move about independently. Imagine these vehicles taking on some of the world’s dullest, dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. And imagine human workers setting their sights on safer, cleaner and higher-value tasks.

While all of that may sound like a glimpse of the future, this day is actually upon us for organizations that use self-driving vehicles from OTTO Motors. Based in Ontario, Canada, OTTO Motors builds autonomous vehicles that are deployed across many industries, including aerospace, healthcare, automotive and e-commerce. From factories to distribution centers, the company’s vehicles are useful to any business where physical goods need to be moved from one place to another.

Vehicles from OTTO Motors are built as much with software and data as with physical components. The company’s developers run thousands of simulations on petabytes of data to test each vehicle before deploying it at a client’s site, and this is where high-performance computing (HPC) becomes extremely important.

“Every single piece of software that we develop is simulated dozens, hundreds or thousands of times before it even sees a robot in test, much less a robot in one of our client sites,” notes Ryan Gariepy, co-founder and chief technology officer at OTTO Motors. “Having reliable compute infrastructure is critical for this.”1

On the job, HPC powers the artificial intelligence in the robotics vehicles. AI allows an OTTO vehicle to analyze its environment, internalize that information and then render a decision quickly. These AI workloads require extreme processing power and very powerful sensors at a cost that’s not prohibitive for OTTO or its customers. The company found all of this in a computing infrastructure based on Dell EMC PowerEdge™ servers with Intel® Xeon® processors.

Let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The OTTO Motors story is about much more than the future of the factory floor. It’s really about putting AI in the driver’s seat, which is a trend that is sweeping the planet. AI-driven vehicles are now on the job in manufacturing plants, distribution centers, industrial sites and more, and they will soon be common on our streets and highways.

We all stand to benefit from having AI behind the wheel. Autonomous vehicles hold the promise of safer roadways and safer workplaces, among countless other benefits — from mobility for people with sight impairments to relief from repetitive jobs spent in a driver’s seat.

“One of the big promises of artificial intelligence (AI) is our driverless future,” writes Intel CEO Brian Krzanich in an online editorial. “Nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes worldwide every year – an average 3,287 deaths a day. Nearly 90 percent of those collisions are caused by human error. Self-driving technology can help prevent these errors by giving autonomous vehicles the capacity to learn from the collective experience of millions of cars — avoiding the mistakes of others and creating a safer driving environment.”2

Here’s the bottom line: When we put AI in the driver’s seat, we can put safer vehicles on the road and in our workplaces. But to make that happen on a broad scale, we need a lot of computational power under the hood, because AI workloads require the extreme processing power of HPC.

And that’s another reason why HPC matters.

For a closer look at OTTO Motors and the technologies behind its self-driving vehicles, read the Dell EMC case study “Building a Safer Workplace with Self-driving Vehicles.”

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Making a difference with HPC

High performance computing touches virtually every aspect of our lives. HPC is making weather forecasts more accurate, cancer therapies more precise, fraud protection more foolproof and products more efficient. In this series of articles, we explore these and other use cases that capitalize on HPC and its convergence with data analytics to illustrate why HPC matters to all of us.

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1 Dell EMC customer case study, “Building a Safer Workplace with Self-Driving Vehicles,” January 2018.

2 Intel editorial, “Waymo and Intel Collaborate on Self-Driving Car Technology,” September 18, 2017.