Forget tablets: your next car will be powered by Nvidia Tegra 2

At CES 2011, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang showed up at the Audi keynote speech to demonstrate how the new Tegra 2 chip would be embedded in next-generation vehicles.

CES 2011

LAS VEGAS — In a surprise twist to a keynote speech by Audi chairman Rupert Stadler, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang showed up to explain how the company's just-announced Tegra 2 processor would be used in the multimedia platform of the company's next-generation vehicles.

Hot off the announcement of the LG Optimus 2X, which Huang himself called a "super phone," Nvidia is already moving to work its marquee chip into high-end tablet computers and now, cars.

“The result is the full integration of a traditional automobile environment and the emerging mobile industry,” Stadler said. “We are redefining what it means to be a really fast computer.”

Stadler said that consumers are demanding “all the Internet has to offer,” but until recently, the auto industry didn't have the capability.

But the massive growth of connectivity as a priority for the consumer electronics industry -- TVs, computers, phones, tablets and yes, even cars -- brings that software expertise to a world where mechanical engineers are king.

At the center of it is Audi's MMI ("multimedia interface") platform, a services platform that offers safety resources, infotainment and more, powered by Tegra. Like Ford's Microsoft-made Sync, MMI unifies the car’s technological features and its driver, with voice recognitionm Google-powered voice search and dynamic maps.

“We believe we have invented the most responsive, most intuitive interface out there,” he said. “[But] the best interface is only half the battle. We wanted the best interface to offer the best information.”

But it goes beyond the little display in your dashboard. In fact, it could very well replace the dash entirely with a digital version.

Huang said a Tegra-powered MMI could power “next-generation digital cockpits,” rendering meters, dials and gauges in real time to appear like the real thing in glass, wood or metal.

Like this:

“If things are presented more realistically, they require less attention [of the driver],” Stadler said. ”Software plays a key role in harnessing the power of this.”

For the auto industry, it's a shot at more rapid innovation.

“The automotive technology platform until now has been more or less constrained by vehicle life cycles, which has been six or seven years,” Stadler said. “Even if the interior after 100,000 miles is flawless, the technology in the cabin is [old].”

For the tech industry, it's a chance to expand to a new environment entirely.

“The result is the full integration of a traditional automobile environment and the emerging mobile industry,” Stadler said. “We are redefining what it means to be a really fast computer.”

Want to know more about Audi's push for smarter car tech? Head over to our sister site SmartPlanet for a complete report.