Even electric self-driving cars may have a climate change problem

The future energy required to run just the computers on a global fleet of autonomous vehicles could generate as much greenhouse gas emissions as all the data centers in the world today.

That finding, announced by researchers from MIT on Friday, is based on a statistical model that calculated the energy outputs a fleet of 1 billion autonomous electric vehicles would generate if they ran one hour per day. The resulting number roughly translated to 0.3 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

For self-driving cars to drive autonomously, they require large amounts of computing power to run sophisticated algorithms and onboard camera systems to navigate traffic safely.

While the findings are only projections, Soumya Sudhakar, a lead MIT researcher on the study, said the results should make self-driving car researchers and makers realize that “business-as-usual” is not enough, and computing efficiency should be at the forefront of their minds.