Computers powering self-driving cars could emit vast amounts of CO2

Computers powering self-driving cars could be a big contributor to global carbon emissions, according to MIT.

In the future, the energy needed to run the powerful computers aboard a global fleet of autonomous vehicles could generate as many greenhouse gas emissions as all the world's data centres do today.

That's a key finding of a new study by MIT researchers who examined the potential energy consumption and associated carbon emissions if autonomous vehicles were widely deployed.

The data centres that house the physical computing infrastructure that runs applications are widely known for their large carbon footprint: According to the International Energy Agency, they currently account for about 0.3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon that Argentina produces annually.

Much more efficient hardware needed

The researchers determined that a billion autonomous vehicles, each driving an hour a day with a computer consuming 840 watts, would use enough energy to produce about the same amount of emissions as data centres currently do.

To prevent emissions from getting out of control, the researchers determined that each autonomous vehicle must use less than 1.2 kilowatts of energy for computing power. For this to be possible, computer hardware would have to become more efficient much faster - specifically, it would have to double in efficiency somewhat every 1.1 years.

The lead author of the study, Soumya Sudhakar, also presented the research results in a TEDx talk.

Written by: as

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