MIT self-driving emissions paper gets wide media attention, not all positive

MIT self-driving CO2 report sparks hyperbolic headlines and an intelligent rebuttal

In January, the respected Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sparked media uproar with its article “Computers that power self-driving cars could be a huge driver of global carbon emissions”.

Indeed, its website boasted of the worldwide coverage, including “MIT study finds huge carbon cost to self-driving cars” in Dezeen, and “Self-driving cars could be a massive source of global carbon emissions” on the BBC.

MIT News self-driving CO2 media coverage, January 2023
MIT News self-driving CO2 media coverage, January 2023

Just one tiny issue. These fall firmly into the category of hyperbolic headlines.

Self-driving emissions prediction

The opening sentence of the report goes in hard: “In the future, the energy needed to run the powerful computers on board a global fleet of autonomous vehicles could generate as many greenhouse gas emissions as all the data centers in the world today.”

Shock news: self-driving cars will need computers… and computers need power! There must be more to it, right? Nope, not really.

The central point is: “that 1 billion autonomous vehicles, each driving for one hour per day with a computer consuming 840 watts, would consume enough energy to generate about the same amount of emissions as data centers currently do.”

Self-driving balance

There’s so much to take issue with, but thankfully – and here’s some great news – this time we don’t have to… because Brad Templeton, who worked on Google’s car team, has already done so, quite brilliantly, in Forbes.

“The study makes poor assumptions, and as such its conclusion is incorrect, but these sorts of studies are often latched onto by the opponents of new technologies due to their confirmation bias, and used as propaganda,” he says.

Spot on sir. For something with such positive potential, self-driving attracts an awful lot of vitriol.

For the record, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) paper behind the headlines – “Data Centers on Wheels: Emissions From Computing Onboard Autonomous Vehicles” – is more tempered, including a commitment “to further analyze and potentially reduce the carbon footprint of AVs”.

Excellent. Maybe pop across to MIT’s own climate dept, where Sergey Paltsev, Deputy Director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, says: “Electric cars are actually much, much better in terms of the impact on the climate in comparison to internal combustion vehicles. And in time, that comparative advantage of electric cars is going to grow.”

Self-driving headline news from CES 2023

CES 2023: Self-driving advances overshadowed by Terminator hero

As has become customary at this time of year, here’s our Cars of the Future review of notable self-driving developments at CES, “the most influential tech event in the world”.

First, it would be remiss not to point out that self-driving impressively made headlines by not stealing the show! For instance, Cleantechnica ran with the headline: “CES 2023 Shies Away From Autonomous Driving Technology”.

Self-driving premiere

That’s maybe a bit harsh. For starters, ZF gave a world premiere to its next generation Level 4 autonomous shuttle, and announced an important new partnership with Beep.

ZF self-driving shuttle announced at CES 2023
ZF self-driving shuttle announced at CES 2023

Integrated into ZF’s autonomous driving system is the Virtual Driver software stack, developed in partnership with Oxfordshire-based Oxbotica. It consists of two major parts, the performance path and the safety path. The safety path monitors situations and defines ‘virtual guardrails’, while the performance path enables smooth driving.

“ZF delivers innovative technologies that contribute to sustainable mobility and help decarbonize the world,” said Dr. Holger Klein, CEO of ZF Group. “Today, we have everything to support our customers with holistic vehicle systems based on advanced high-performance controllers, intelligent sensors, smart actuators, connectivity and cloud solutions, and cutting-edge software and functions.”

The agreement with Beep includes plans for “several thousand” Level 4 shuttles in the US. Joe Moye, CEO of Beep, added: “This vehicle will help expand use cases and meet growing customer demand as we continue to pursue our vision of extending mobility equity and reducing carbon emissions with safe, efficient shared autonomous transportation.”

Self-driving AI

Then there was Korean company AIMMO’s announcement of “the world’s first AI-powered Autonomous Driving Data-as-a-Service” – ADaaS – designed “to overcome the industry-wide problem of excessive data collection that has constrained the progression and commercialisation of AV technologies”.

AIMMO AI-powered Autonomous Driving Data-as-a-Service (ADaaS) for self-driving
AIMMO AI-powered Autonomous Driving Data-as-a-Service (ADaaS) for self-driving

“Over the years, we have seen a huge amount of anticipation around when we will see autonomous vehicles commercialised, but with standards and regulations ever-changing across the world, it is an extremely complex market to navigate,” said AIMMO CEO SeungTaek Oh. ”We believe that the arrival of AIMMO ADaaS is a game-changer for many companies operating in this space.”

There was the small matter of Honda and Sony teaming up to launch a whole new brand, Afeela. It promises “the car of tomorrow”, with first deliveries scheduled for 2026.

Self-driving tech

Plastic Omnium announced the creation of a new division, OP’n Soft, focused on “mobility solutions that are more electric, more connected, more autonomous and more shared”. There’s probably an acronym for that.

“OP’n Soft will enable Plastic Omnium to offer its customers a unique range of integrated solutions and services, such as merging radar data processing software with lighting technologies,” said CEO Laurent Favre.

Plastic O also showcased a new “smart bumper” featuring embedded antennas to deliver “unequaled sensing faculties”, and announced a partnership with startup Greenerwave “to transform body panels into 4D imaging radar to give autonomous cars supervision”.

Another startup, Exwayz, unveiled SLAM – new generation software offering self-localization accurate to 2cm “to simplify and accelerate 3D LiDAR integration into autonomous systems”.

Exwayz SLAM self-localization for self-driving announced at CES 2023
Exwayz SLAM self-localization for self-driving announced at CES 2023

“We are proud to introduce Exwayz SLAM, aimed at saving years in hard software development to autonomous system manufacturers,” said CEO Hassan Bouchiba. “The reality is that autonomy can only happen with robust, accurate, reliable and truly real-time algorithms, which are the critical lacking elements in currently available solutions.”

Terminator star

Perhaps understandably, these advances were somewhat overshadowed by Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger joining BMW CEO Oliver Zipse on-stage to unveil the eye-catching BMW i Vision Dee colour-changing car.

The Dee Movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger on Youtube

Cars of the Future editor Neil Kennett interviewed Sir Stirling Moss OBE in 2011.

Video: Stirling Moss calls Tony Brooks “best driver the public haven’t heard of”

As avid Cars of the Future readers know, we occasionally like to look back to the glory days of motoring in a series we call… Cars of the Past. Well, today is one of those days.

Following yesterday’s sad news of the passing of F1 racer Tony Brooks, at the age of 90, we thought it appropriate to share this short clip of Sir Stirling Moss OBE talking in glowing terms about his former Vanwall teammate:

Sir Stirling Moss OBE talks in glowing terms about former teammate Tony Brooks

Sir Stirling Moss OBE said: “The best driver the public haven’t heard of in my mind was Tony Brooks. Tony was as good as nearly anybody, and he could do sports cars and Grand Prix cars. Fangio was not very good on sports cars – I mean, I could beat him in sports cars, but in Formula One he was the tops.”

New car tech editor Neil Kennett conducted the interview at Moss’s house in Mayfair, London, in 2011.

“I remember we recorded it the day after Vettel secured his second F1 title,” he said. “Further into the interview Sir Stirling talks about how racing helps to develop new automotive technologies, such as energy recovery systems. He and Tony Brooks were both racing legends.”

Frequently referred to as the greatest driver never to win the F1 World Championship, Sir Stirling Moss died in April 2020.

Tony Brooks won six Grand Prix, finishing second in the World Drivers’ Championship in 1959 with Ferrari. He died on 3 May 2022.