Technology company Nvidia, best known for its computer graphics hardware, has used this week’s Consumer Electronics Show to reveal a new ‘supercomputer’ artificial intelligence designed specifically for driverless cars.

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The compact new water-cooled device, dubbed Nvidia Drive PX2, is described as a “deep learning” computer with processing power equivalent to roughly 150 MacBook Pros - and at least one carmaker, Volvo, has signed on to test it.

Revealing the system in Las Vegas today, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said simply that “self-driving cars are hard” - and his company knows how to get the job done.

“Self-driving cars need three things: software, supercomputers, and ‘deep learning’,” he told an audience at CES today.

“We are leveraging these to create the brain of future autonomous vehicles that will be continuously alert, and eventually achieve superhuman levels of situational awareness.”

Drive PX2, Huang said, will perform 24 trillion deep-learning operations per second to deliver 360-degree situational awareness around the car, at once processing input from 12 video cameras, along with lidar, radar and ultrasonic sensors.

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Those systems will combined with a new platform called DIGITS, designed to allow driverless vehicles to send the results of their analysis to - but not rely on - a cloud-based network for the benefit of all other connected vehicles that may encounter a similar scenario in the future.

It’s that sort of technology that will enable driverless cars to rapidly assess and react to the sorts of unexpected situations on the road that would in most cases go awry if left to a human operator.

As its name suggests, the PX2 is the second generation of an AI system revealed last year, which Nvidia says has already been adopted by 50 carmakers, suppliers, developers and research institutions for driverless vehicles development.

Among them are the Volkswagen Group’s Audi, along with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Ford - all of which have revealed significant autonomous vehicle advancements over the past few years.

Volvo will be the first to utilise the PX2, however, integrating the system with the 100 driverless XC90 SUVs that will be used by its own customers for next year’s Drive Me pilot programme in Sweden.