Self-Driving Cars Face an Unexpected Problem: Fuel Economy

While Bloomberg argues the power consumption of these vehicles will drop significantly over the long term, I’m not sure precisely how true that is. Many of the components in self-driving cars are integrated systems for computer vision and various types of sensors. In traditional semiconductors, there’s a long trend of miniaturization and per-transistor power cuts–but we don’t always see equivalent progress in other fields. To put it differently: If radar systems had been able to cut power consumption and increase range and detection speeds the way semiconductors have scaled up from their earliest beginnings, your phone would have a radar that could see a grasshopper jump from 20 miles away while drawing a watt or two of power, tops.

The total impact of self-driving technology is estimated to cost 5-10 percent of total fuel efficiency. Ironically, this is one of the major and most critical differences between a computer and a human: Your brain is fantastically power-efficient, blowing any artificial equivalent out of the water.

Companies are planning to introduce their first self-driving cars in the next few years, though the technology won’t go mainstream for quite some time. A person making the median household income in the top 25 US metropolitan areas can only afford to make a new vehicle purchase at the recommended “20/4/10” rule (20 percent of your income as a down payment, four year loan, 10 percent of income for interest and insurance) in one of them. As Fortune pointed out earlier this year, a person making median income in Miami can afford a 13,577 vehicle. The average new vehicle in that area is 35,368 including sales tax.

via Self-Driving Cars Face an Unexpected Problem: Fuel Economy – ExtremeTech