Self-Driving Cars Are Using so Much Power It's Decreasing the EV's Range

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【Summary】In order to bestow autonomous capabilities onto a vehicle, automakers and tech companies are having to pack cars with high-tech hardware, which is sapping energy away from the cars.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Feb 15, 2018 9:00 AM PT
Self-Driving Cars Are Using so Much Power It's Decreasing the EV's Range

Transforming a regular human-operated vehicle into something that can operate on its own takes a lot of hardware and software. High-tech sensors and cameras are needed, as is an advanced LiDAR system. And one can't forget about having a computer with enough juice to run everything. All of the items that go into running an autonomous car require a lot of power, which is starting to become a problem.

Energy Is Becoming A Problem For Autonomous Cars

In a report, Wired points out the issue of ensuring autonomous cars have enough juice to power the self-driving systems. As the outlet points out, students at Carnegie Mellon University came out with a driverless van back in the late 1980s. Why a van? Well the cars like the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Chrysler Pacifica, and Chevrolet Bolt weren't around. The major reason for going with a full-size van, though, was for the extra space. 

The researchers found that they needed a large vehicle to house the supercomputer, giant laser scanner, camera, and air-conditioner, claims the outlet. While automakers and tech companies have found a way to create more compact systems, they've run into a new problem — finding enough power to run everything. 

According to Wired, the average vehicle generates approximately six gigabytes of data every 30 seconds. That figure is obviously a lot more for semi-autonomous vehicles and fully-autonomous cars are expected to use 40 terabytes of data over a span of eight hours. Obtaining the data and then going through it requires a lot of power. The outlet states that current prototypes on the street use approximately 2,500 watts of power. Since the majority of test vehicles aren't fully autonomous, it's safe to say that self-driving cars will use even more juice. 

Where Will The Extra Juice Come From?

"To put such a system into a combustion-engined car doesn't make any sense, because the fuel consumption will go up tremendously," says Will Stark, Mercedes-Benz's vice president of strategy. When you think of autonomous technology in an electric vehicle, it makes even less sense. The current crop of EVs have ranges that don't match their gasoline-powered counterparts. Stuffing high-tech systems into battery-powered machines hurts the vehicles' figures even more. 

"It's not a huge problem for the early applications, where we expect them to be used," said Chris Urmson, CEO of Aurora. That's because the first crop of autonomous vehicles are expected to be used in urban locations and at low speeds, meaning they'll be able to recharge their batteries often. 

The good news, though, is that tech companies are looking into making systems that are more fuel-efficient. Nvidia, for instance, unveiled the Xavier — the company's new processor that's specifically designed with autonomous vehicles in mind — that can handle more computations with less power. "We're able to deliver 30 trillion operations per second, all on a single SOC, or system on chip, that consumes 30 watts of energy," said Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive at the company. 

There's also the problem of heat, as computers got hot when taxed and used heavily. With the rise of autonomous cars, tech companies and automakers are running into new problems. And having to figure out a way of keeping computers and various systems on an autonomous car powered and cooled is one of the more pressing issues. 

via: Wired

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