Today at the NVIDIA corporate office we had a chance to sit down and listen to NVIDIA Chief Scientist David Kirk talk about what the GPU can do beyond just gaming. NVIDIA has spent a ton of time and a fair amount of money getting their CUDA software off the ground and running in the past year. NVIDIA created the CUDA software environment for-general-purpose programs in C, to run on the GPU.
NVIDIA has figured up that 70 million CUDA ready GPUs on the market today and that 350,000 consumers download the proper software a week to enable using CUDA. If the download number surprises you then you’ll be happy to find out that CUDA software is already in NVIDIA Forceware drivers, so nothing additional needs to be installed to enable CUDA. What is more impressive is that 60,000 developers have downloaded the SDK. Massively Parallel Programming using CUDA is taking off with roughly 100 universities now teaching the coding language to the future programmers of our world. NVIDIA has already seen many universities and corporations benefit with CUDA software and parallel programming, so more companies are looking into it as a viable option. NVIDIA even used it recently to convert the AGEIA PhysX SDK into CUDA. The project was completed in just 2.5 months! The transistion to CUDA seems to be going very well and it might be due to some divine insipiration as seen above.
Up next we had a chance to hear Steve Parker and Peter Shirley speak. These two individuals co-founded a company called RayScale after teaching at the University of Utah together for a number of years (combined they have 20 years experience in the field). To be blunt, RayScale is a product of the decade-long interactive ray tracing research at the University of Utah. RayScale currently has a product available for Autodesk Maya, dubbed LightNow. It seems that they are onto something good as NVIDIA will be announcing the acquisition of RayScale!
RayScale showed off some GPU Ray Tracing images they developed, but wanted to make sure that it was clear that everything is still being developed and that gaming with Ray Tracing is still down the road. RayScale is working on software for Ray Tracing and right now their main focus is on adding new features rather than improving speed. When asked how many times one has to bounce light off an object to look real they responded by saying that for most situations one bounce suffices, but the program will let you do more if needed.
The take home message from what we learned today is that Ray Tracing can be used to create more accurate reflections and offers indirect lighting, but it’s not cost effective. Companies like Ray Scale and NVIDIA are determined to speed things up and make Ray Tracing a viable option. One way to do this is to bring out hardware that is better optimized for computation. The next round of graphics cards from NVIDIA should be very interesting to say the least.