NI Seeks To Accelerate Autonomous Vehicle Development With MonoDrive Acquisition

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Autonomous driving and EVs are two of the main things on the collective mind of the tech industry. I’ve also long said that autonomous vehicles will be one of, if not the most transformative technological advances in our lifetime. They save lives and energy.  I’ve been watching autonomous long-haul trucking startup Plus roll out announcement after announcement over the last few months, including a big deal with none other than NVIDIA and its DRIVE platform and its public debut via SPAC. This month also saw Marvell’s announcement of its second-generation pre-standard, multi-gig automotive Ethernet PHY solution. And On Semi’s new LiDAR array. Self-driving is hot.

Recently, Austin-based NI (formerly National Instruments) revealed a major automotive announcement—its intent to acquire monoDrive, which specializes in signal processing and hi-fi simulation software for autonomous vehicles and ADAS development. I had a chance to chat with NI CEO Eric Starkloff to talk about the deal.

From simulation to market

Since I also call Austin home, I consider NI to be neighbors and friends. I like to highlight the company whenever I can because it does much behind-the-scenes work on tech that we use every day despite not being a household name. Its bread and butter is automated test equipment and virtual instrumental software, which manufacturers use to validate everything from 5G infrastructure to machine vision. NI is very rapidly making moves and acquisitions to make it even more software-defined and “as a service”.

With this in mind, and considering how instrumental (pardon the pun) testing and validation are to ensure the levels of safety and energy required by autonomous vehicles, it’s no wonder NI is looking to grow its involvement. The only way fully autonomous vehicles will become a common sight on the roads is if automakers, with help from the likes of NI, can prove to the public their chance of error is drastically lower than that of a human driver.  

Founded in 2016, monoDrive, is also based out of Austin. The company’s High Fidelity Simulator essentially allows engineers to cruise millions of virtual miles with their prototype vehicle, modeling numerous sensors and thousands of real-time, real-world scenarios. The platform pays special mind to identify any edge cases, which, although uncommon, can be highly unpredictable and potentially deadly.

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With the complexity of ADAS design cycles and the necessity of many successive iterations and simulations, there is a need to streamline and hasten the transitions between simulations, lab-based and physical test environments. NI hopes the addition of monoDrive’s High Fidelity Simulator to its portfolio will enable it to fulfill this niche, breaking down the silos caused by the traditional approach of using multiple disparate tools together. By combining monoDrive’s simulator with NI’s software-connected systems, NI says automakers can achieve faster time-to-market, lower costs and, most importantly, safer vehicles. 

And Ansys too!

To shore up its auto simulation abilities even further, NI announced it would also collaborate with Ansys, a Philadelphia-based heavy hitter in engineering simulation technology. Ansys, according to NI, brings the ability to simulate “the fundamental physics” of its various LiDARs, radars and cameras, all the way from initial design to production. You can thank Ansys if you’ve ever flown on an airplane or witnessed a successful rocket launch. The same likely goes for whatever device you’re using to read this article. So much simulation goes into bringing us the marvels of the modern era that we often take for granted. Together, the companies plan to tackle the problem of recreating real-world simulations to validate sensors while also figuring out how to inject data into hardware and software under testing in real-time.

Wrapping up

I think NI and monoDrive make sense together, and I’m glad to see NI continuing to push into the next-generation automotive sector with this acquisition as well as software-defines and “as a service”. No other company, in my opinion, can match NI’s testing and validation abilities, and monoDrive’s world-class driving simulator is a significant value-add for the company. If the auto industry does not already regard NI as the go-to for autonomous vehicle testing and validation, I believe this deal will put it over the top. Soon, NI’s fingerprint may be as ubiquitous in auto as it is elsewhere. 

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.