Image courtesy Waymo & Jaguar.
Elon’s Remarks about Horses and Why the Safety Benefit is Simple Chess
As was mentioned in the beginning of this piece, Elon has said that if you buy a car that isn’t electric and is not upgradeable to self-driving, then you are practically buying a horse. It has a limited move-set in its arsenal when it comes to dodging accidents. In chess, it’s closer to the move-set of a horse, while a Tesla’s move-set is closer to a queen.
An electric car has instant torque, which means that if a car has to take drastic evasive action to avoid a crash, it can also consider options that require it to instantly accelerate, something a gas car can’t do. This could also apply to swerving out of the way when traffic in parallel lanes might require instant acceleration to successfully merge into another lane, which may be the only option to avoid the crash, and may only be an option if the car can do it very quickly. In such a case, your carrot-on-a-stick-led horse cannot prevent itself from being rump-ended.
Aerodynamic Drag, Motor Efficiency, & Power Efficiency
Compared to gas cars, range is a bit of an Achilles heel for electric cars (for now). The gap is closing really quickly, but in any case, efficiency is a big key to a longer range. This means efficient motors, good aerodynamics, and not wasting too much electricity on other functions, like very-power-hungry self-driving computer technology.
In March 2018, it was announced that the Jaguar I-PACE would be joining Waymo’s fleet of autonomous vehicles. However, more than a year later, not a single Waymo I-PACE vehicle has started commercial operation, and there is probably a very good reason for that.
The Jaguar I-PACE’s real-world range seems to be just a bit below 200 miles (320 km), even though it has a battery larger than a standard Model X vehicle, which has 255 miles of range. Now, add to that the aerodynamic drag that Waymo’s equipment adds to the equation and the processing power needed to make its system work. For a Tesla with computer hardware version 3 (HW3), the power requirement is approximately 100 watts, but Waymo’s equipment might use much more. During Tesla’s Autonomy Day presentation, it was said that in non-highway circumstances the Autopilot computer can account for 20% of used power. If this is also the case for the I-PACE, then its range will be 160 miles (260 km) — but it will actually be worse since that 20% doesn’t include the additional aerodynamic drag from Waymo’s contraption. This brings us to the next point.
How Much are Others Prioritizing Energy Efficiency?
It seems that Tesla is the only company designing self-driving systems very directly for specific models. Other companies and teams appear to be more disjointed — mostly because the primary work has been done or is being done by non-automotive startups, rather than at automobile companies with the automobile design and development teams working very closely with the self-driving technology team. How much the self-driving tech teams have prioritized efficiency of their systems or understood how that would differ in different vehicle models is an open question.
As was extensively covered in our HW3 chip deep dive, a processor needs to be very powerful, but also very energy efficient. In the case of HW3, that means drawing 100 watts or up to a whopping 20% of the power utilization of a vehicle. In the case of Waymo, we don’t know how much power its computer(s) consume, so it could actually be beating Tesla, but since Waymo hasn’t shared any hardware details, there is no way to know.
One thing is for sure — the products that NVIDIA makes are extremely power hungry. Its most current hardware consumes 500 watts for 320 TOPS (which, if we understood NVIDIA correctly from its blog post, can be scaled down to 250 watts for 160 TOPS). Tesla can achieve 144 TOPS with 100 Watts. Basically, where NVIDIA delivers 0.64 TOPS per watt, Tesla delivers 1.66 TOPS per watt. Just for fun, let’s remember that 100 watts in some situations can account for 20% of the power utilized in the vehicle. If that was 500 watts, then FSD would be nearly doubling the power usage of a vehicle (versus no FSD tech at all). Now, I must give NVIDIA some credit — its current product line is a general, multi-purpose product more designed for developing and testing the product, and NVIDIA is promising that a much better chip is right around the corner.
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Nonetheless, the main point is that when it comes to self-driving technology, power efficiency might be the second most important metric after safety, and we have no insight into how much consideration it is given by other automakers or chipmakers.
Electric vehicles can respond much more quickly than gasoline vehicles in various ways, which makes them better suited for full self-driving tech. They can take advantage of the rapid response time of computers. The exact optimal combination of steering, braking, power to each wheel, and suspension coordinated by the computer is worlds apart from what is possible with a mechanical internal combustion engine powertrain.
Precision control over the electric motors also allows every single wheel to adjust to slippery road conditions, making a rear-wheel-drive vehicle almost as safe (or maybe even safer) on icy road conditions than a gas car with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The combination of a computer AI driver with an electric car is so much more versatile and can react so much faster to traffic situations that it just does not make sense to continue producing (or buying) gas cars.
However, it is critical to design efficient self-driving tech and efficient vehicles, as well as designing the two to integrate as efficiently as possible.
That was fun. I hope you agree. Let’s not even open the Pandora’s box of possibilities the Roadster 2 opens by possibly being able to turbo boost a few meters into the air to avoid an accident. 😉
Photo by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica