Autonomous Vehicles are Power Hungry

Automotive News highlights a problem that we thought a lot about during my time at Ford: the power consumption of autonomous vehicles.

Some of today’s prototypes for fully autonomous systems consume 2 to 4 kilowatts of electricity — the equivalent of having 50 to 100 laptops continuously running in the trunk, according to BorgWarner Inc.

That has huge implications for fuel economy:

The autonomous features on a Level 4 or 5 vehicle, which can operate without human intervention, devour so much power that it makes meeting fuel economy and carbon emissions targets 5 to 10 percent harder, according to Chris Thomas, BorgWarner’s chief technology officer.

“They’re worried about one watt, and now you’re adding a couple thousand,” Thomas said. “It’s not trivial.”

I would bet that a fair bit of what NVIDIA is building with its Pegasus units, and what Tesla is working on with AMD, and what Waymo is working on with Intel, is getting the required computational speed at acceptable power consumption levels.

Automotive News hypothesizes that the solution may lie, at least initially, with plug-in hybrids:

“If you are trying to maximize your utilization” of an autonomous vehicle, a battery-electric car “is really restrictive for your business,” Jim Farley, Ford’s president of global markets, told investors on Oct. 3. He said Ford believes hybrids are “the right tech to start with.”

As the owner and driver of a plug-in hybrid Ford C-MAX Energi, I can say with some authority that the fuel efficiency of an electric vehicle paired with the range of gasoline is great.

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