It might feel like electric cars and autonomous vehicles go hand-in-hand for technology companies and early adopters, but it turns out that the computer required for a self-driving car is a real energy hog. For now, autonomous vehicles require so much power to run that they can’t run on batteries.
Automotive supplier BorgWarner stated that current prototypes for the autonomous driving systems consume up to 4 kilowatts of electricity on the go—that’s like running 100 laptops in the back seat of your car. For example, Nvidia developed a supercomputer that they claim is ready for Level 5 autonomy and handles up to 320 trillion operations per second. All that processing power takes a ton of juice. If you’re running the engine on a battery and you plug in a supercomputer, you’re going to run out of power long before your car can drive you home.
BorgWarner expects that the first self-driving cars will need a gasoline or hybrid engine to supply electricity to the vehicle’s processor. We don’t think it will take long for tech companies to solve this problem—think about how fast the industry has adopted energy-saving materials, lights, and engines to cut down on costs. But the first wave of robot cars will likely come with a good ol’ fashioned gas engine to power that futuristic brain.