Everyday moon landings with Infiniti-computer strength

(July 30, 2019) HONG KONG — Fifty years ago the Apollo 11 moon landing was made possible by technology, with the legendary space craft’s computing power unlike anything else the world had ever seen. Since then, strides in technological development have led to the computerization of objects we take for granted every day, each with a level of processing power that eclipses that of the Eagle landing module.

"Neil Armstrong’s small step on to the moon’s surface didn’t just represent a giant leap for mankind," explains Eric Rigaux, head of Future Product at Infiniti. "It also marked a transformation in our relationships with machines and a realization of what they could do for us."

Watching the footage in black and white, people marveled at the science behind this voyage of discovery — a vivid illustration of the benefits of advanced technological computers.

The Apollo Guidance Computer was equipped with the most advanced technology of the time, with 2 kb of memory and 2.024 MHz operating speeds. The smartphone in your pocket — or in your hand, as a device for reading this story — has around 1,000 times the operating speeds of the Apollo’s guidance system, and 1.5 million times the memory capacity for managing various tasks.

At the time, the Apollo Guidance Computer was the first digital flight computer, and the first to use silicon chips. It could carry out up to eight tasks at a time, processing inputs from the Apollo 11’s gyroscope, accelerometers, radar systems, and telemetry from Earth. It also powered the interface used by the three-man crew to communicate manually with the craft.

This computing power was unprecedented at the time but has since been left behind by the processing power found in today’s most basic machinery. Take your smartphone again, for example. As well as carrying out calls, it can access the internet, play music and video, make complicated calculations, and manage your diary, all without breaking a sweat.

Unlike the computer running your smartphone or laptop, however, the Apollo Guidance Computer was the first onboard computer in a craft where the lives of the crew depended on its ability to function correctly. On that basis, comparing it with today’s autonomous driving systems better demonstrates the extraordinary technological advances that have been made in the last 50 years.

"The Infiniti QX50 uses a network of electrical systems, each communicating with one another. The processor behind the Infiniti QX50’s telematics  system, for instance, is around 650 times quicker than the Apollo 11’s guidance computer, and has around 500,000 times the processing memory," comments Rigaux.

"In planetary terms, if the Apollo 11’s Guidance Computer is Earth, each of the many processors powering the Infiniti QX50’s network of electrical systems are Saturns in their own right — a planet more than 700 times larger than our own.

"The processor behind the QX50’s ProPILOT Assist is similarly powerful. This superior computing power means ProPILOT Assist can support a whole range of driver assist features designed to help make highway driving less stressful. The ProPILOT Assist system in the QX50 has to process and analyze more data than the computer that helped humans fly to the moon. The car’s central computer must carry out many more tasks, and read data from thousands of additional sources — and the Apollo Guidance Computer never had to worry about monitoring its surroundings for traffic. Even after fifty years of continuous development, developing modern driver assist technology is a commensurately more complicated job."

The QX50’s ProPILOT Assist technology is capable of making thousands of calculations every second, taking in data from sensors all around the car and determining what to do with that information. This means the car’s driver assist can help monitor the location of the vehicle ahead, and the location of the QX50 itself in its lane.

Using the QX50’s single-lane highway driving function, the assistance systems can help to accelerate, brake and steer in certain conditions, relying on radar and cameras to read the road ahead and the vehicle directly ahead.

The Apollo Guidance Computer had one task: to get three humans to the moon. And in spite of this singular purpose, Armstrong still had to override the module’s landing systems to land the Apollo in the sweet spot on the moon.

In the modern era, the computers behind Infiniti’s ProPILOT Assist can make instantaneous calculations to help the driver keep the car in its lane — something only made possible by modern computing technology. And even now, Infiniti believes these systems shouldn’t replace drivers entirely.

As with Neil Armstrong and his manual moon landing 50 years ago, Infiniti continues to let drivers retain control of their vehicles and form a connection with the car and its motions. Computers are more advanced now than ever before, but giving the driver the ability to override the driver assist technologies — and enjoy their own everyday moon landings — remains as important as ever.