The Debate About Electric Vehicles (EVs) and AI Autonomous Cars
By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider
Electrical Vehicles (EVs) are talked about, they are praised, they get a lot of attention, and in some parts of the United States there is a near obsession with them (hint: California).
In spite of all the hype and press, the reality is that there are only around 1.1 million such cars in the U.S. and it represents a small fraction of the 250+ million cars in the country. That’s less than one-half of one percent of the total cars in circulation.
When I say this at various industry presentations, those with an EV are quick to yell at me as a traitor and get upset at my seemingly naysayer commentary.
Allow me to clarify that I am fully supportive of EVs and hope that a lot more will get sold. I’m a big cheerleader for EVs. All I’m trying to point out is that we have a long way to go before they become prevalent.
In terms of EVs, I am lumping together all variations in this herein discussion, for convenience’s sake. Generally, there are Plug-in EV’s (PEVs), consisting of Battery EV (BEVs) that are equipped to only run on batteries, and there are the Hybrid EVs (abbreviated as either HEVs or PHEVs), which use both a gas powered internal combustion engine and battery power.
Why have EV’s? One argument in favor of EV is that they are less polluting than conventional gas-powered cars. Thus, ecologically, the EV is better for the environment. We can all breathe a bit easier. Another argument is that the adoption of EV’s might aid in reducing the pace of climate change. That’s one that gets a lot of people in a tizzy since there are some that believe in climate change and some that do not.
Here’s a less controversial point, EV’s would reduce the dependence on oil and the production of gasoline. This would seem like a handy move since there are various predictions about how costly it is coming to become to get oil and make gasoline. Presumably it’s a limited resource, and we’re using it up. Also, it obviously tends to provide power to those that have it and not so much to those that don’t. Some say down with the cartels.
Another less discussed aspect in favor of EVs is that people like the quietness and the feel of driving an EV. I’m going to list that as an argument in favor of EVs, but I realize not everyone necessarily likes that aspect. There are some that love the sound of a conventional combustion engine and refuse to get an EV because it doesn’t have the same sound and fury. To each their own.
Of course, some EVs can simulate the sounds of a conventional car, or make other purposeful noises or sounds to serve as a warning or indicator that the EV is nearby.
The government right now is offering incentives to have people buy EVs, so from that perspective the government is considered somewhat supportive of EVs, which helps to promote them and keep the price lower than presumably what it might otherwise be.
Now, hold your breath, here are some of the stated negatives about EVs.
Some would say they are too expensive. Plus, if the government reduces the incentives to get one, it will be even more costly. Of course, the counter-argument is that we are still in the early days of EVs and presumably, eventually, the cost will come down.
The automakers are right now pretty much taking it on the chin to develop, make, and sell EVs. For example, news reports suggest that the Chevrolet Bolt has allegedly been often sold at a loss. The Nissan Leaf has been claimed to not be making a profit. I think it’s fair to say that right now all the auto makers that are into EVs are finding themselves faced with razor sharp margins and it’s quite a feat to find a profit in this, so far.
That being said, one could look at this as a wide-open market. It’s poised to explode, some argue. Currently in its infancy, one would expect that the adoption rate is low and the costs are high at the start of any new innovation adoption.
At some point, the popularity goes up and the price will be coming down. Most would claim that they can see on the horizon a mass market electric car that turns a nice profit. Sometimes you’ve got to invest in something at a loss, being patient before it turns around and hopefully becomes a true money maker.
The auto makers have to play the game since otherwise, if the market does become EV crazed, each automaker will need to have its own EV for consumers to buy. Imagine if the EV market booms and you are the only automaker that didn’t have the foresight and fortitude to put together an EV. That would be bad news for you, for your company, for your shareholders, etc.
You could add that having an EV is considered politically correct too. For some people, they enjoy bragging about their EV. It is considered stylish. Want a piece of the future, today? Get yourself an EV.
There are political analysts that worry about which country will get into EV first. China right now is going gangbusters over EV. Should we look at dollars or should we look at units sold?
There are some focusing on luxury EVs, notably having a much higher price tag than the everyday EV. There are arguments about which automaker is in the lead, depending upon your metric of using dollar sales volume versus number of units sold.
What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?
At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. Doing so also makes us aware of the electrical power needs of an AI self-driving car. During my presentations at industry conferences, attendees often assume that all AI self-driving cars will unarguably be EVs. There is a bit of shock when I point out that this is not necessarily the case.
Here’s what people seem to say:
- EVs will be the cause of AI self-driving cars, without which there won’t be AI self-driving cars.
- AI self-driving cars will be the cause of EVs, without which there won’t be EVs.
Neither of those statements make much sense when you take them apart or unpack them.
Let’s tackle the notion that EVs will be the cause of AI self-driving cars (and, the added corollary that without EVs there won’t be AI self-driving cars).
It’s a kind of hyper claim that mishmashes things together.
We’ll begin with some fundamentals.
An AI self-driving car has lots of sensory devices, such as cameras, radar, sonic, LIDAR, and the rest.
These all require electrical power to run. An AI self-driving car has lots of computer processors and memory devices which are needed to run the AI part of things. These all require electric power to run.
It’s readily apparent that an AI self-driving car needs a lot of electrical power in order to work.
Not much debate on that.
For my article about LIDAR and other sensors see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/lidar-secret-sauce-self-driving-cars/
For my framework about AI self-driving cars, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/framework-ai-self-driving-driverless-cars-big-picture/
Where is the AI part of the self-driving car going to get all of this needed electrical power?
Somehow, the car has to generate it.
If you use a conventional gas-powered car, you’ll likely need to outfit the car with additional electrical generation and power storage capabilities to meet the demand of the AI and its sensors.
This can be done.
You can argue that it raises the cost of the gas-powered car, which that’s likely true, and you can argue that it will take up space in the car, which is also likely true.
So, yes, a conventional gas-powered car might need to chew-up the trunk space to have added batteries and electrical elements, and overall the cost of the car is likely to go up.
All probably true.
The point is that it doesn’t preclude the use of a gas-powered car to be used for an AI self-driving car platform.
It just means that a gas-powered car is perhaps a less amenable choice.
There are some that are trying desperately to create kits that could turn a conventional gas-powered car into an AI self-driving car, which if this could be done would be a bonanza since you could sell the kit to presumably the 200+ million car owners in the US today.
Unfortunately, the kits are not likely to be viable, mainly because of the add-on needed to a conventional car, and not solely having to do with the electrical power constraints.
For my article about kits and AI self-driving cars, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/kits-and-ai-self-driving-cars/
So, let’s go ahead and reject the notion that AI self-driving cars are not possible without EVs.
That just doesn’t ring true.
The first part of the statement was that EVs will cause the advent of AI self-driving cars.
That’s only half true, I’d say.
I think it’s fair to say that even if EVs didn’t exist that we would all still be pouring our hearts into trying to create AI self-driving cars.
The electrical power aspect is for most AI developers an afterthought.
They aren’t worried about whether this machine learning system or that AI code is going to require a heftier processor that consumes more power.
Their assumption is that the power will be found. It’s up to those clever automotive engineers to get them the power needed.
For my look at AI self-driving cars as a moonshot, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/self-driving-car-mother-ai-projects-moonshot/
I remember when smart phones first came out.
The amount of available battery power was negligible. It seemed as though if you used your smartphone for the running of a game app for a few minutes and if you made a phone call or text, voilà you were out of power. Power consumption really wasn’t much concern per se.
Of course, consumers were irked and the makers of the smartphones woke up and realized that consumers would choose possibly one brand over another based on how long the battery lasted. This launched an intense interest in the battery makers and also how to optimize the OS for the lengthening of the battery life.
I’d wager the same is going to happen with AI self-driving cars.
At first, they’ll chew-up electrical power like they need the Hoover Dam or a nuclear reactor.
Once it’s been shown that AI is working and we believe in self-driving cars, the attention will shift toward using less power when possible and extending the batteries of the self-driving car as long as possible.
That’s though a second or third step in the evolution of things.
Thus, I don’t think you can say that the rise of EVs will “cause” the advent of AI self-driving cars.
The word “cause” is a pretty strong one.
If I stand next to you, and I shove you, and you fall to the ground, I’ll grant you that I “caused” you to fall down.
On the other hand, if I stand next to you, and you happen to fall down, and my standing next to you was a contributor (maybe you thought I was going to shove you and so you preempted it by dropping to the ground), I’d say that I was involved and there was some kind of correlation or relationship between the two aspects, but one wasn’t the cause for the other per se.
The advent of EVs is going to make the production of an AI self-driving car easier and hopefully less costly.
This is due to the aspect that the EV is already geared up to produce and store quantities of electrical power.
Therefore, the AI systems and sensors can tap into it. Or, if it is needed to boost the electrical capabilities for aiding the added AI components, it would seem a natural extension of what the EV already has for its design and construction.
You can also perhaps say that without the advent of EVs, it would likely make the advent of AI self-driving cars harder, more costly, and maybe even delay their rise.
Trying to graft onto a conventional gas-powered car the needed electrical storage and generation might distract from the AI side of things. The power engineers might say to the AI developers that they need to cut back on things. A conventional car might need to be redesigned and maybe even made to be bulkier or more awkward in shape and weight. Those are bad and unfortunate possibilities, but none of those would kill the desire to get to an AI self-driving car.
I’d dare say that there is such an intense desire to get to an AI self-driving car that if needed the auto makers would start over and make some kind of new car to accommodate it.
This doesn’t seem to be needed as yet.
So far, it appears that with pretty much a normal car, whether an EV or a gas-powered one, we’ll be able to make it into an AI self-driving car.
And, though the EV advocates will get angry at me, I’d claim there is as much if not even more calls for an AI self-driving car than there is for an EV.
Ouch, I said it.
People kind of buy into the EV advantages of the environment and all the rest, but it doesn’t seem to pique their interest. It’s a car that happens to use electricity. Nice. That’s a good thing.
On the other hand, if you tell someone that we can make a self-driving car, which will drive you whenever you want, and you don’t need to drive the car, it’s something that people say, yeh, I want one of those. It has the draw of allowing for a sense of freedom. It will provide mobility for the masses. It will change the nature of society. An EV is not going to do the same, sorry.
This brings us to the other statement that I had mentioned earlier, namely the claim that perhaps AI self-driving cars will bring about the advent of EVs, or as stated “cause” it to occur.
As I’ve already mentioned, it is not a precondition that an AI self-driving car can only happen if the car itself is an EV. There isn’t a requirement that the underlying car must be an EV. If it was the case that only an EV would suffice, I’d say that there would be even more strenuous efforts to get the world toward EV, as being sparked by the desire to get us to an AI self-driving car.
Will AI self-driving cars spur the advent of EV?
Yes, I think we can say that without much reservation or qualification.
The alignment of the need of the AI to have lots of electrical power with an underlying platform made for that purpose, the two will certainly fit like a glove. They will go hand-in-hand, as it were.
I’ll once again quibble with the notion that the AI self-driving car will cause EV adoption.
If the AI self-driving car makers opt to use EV as the underlying platform, and if the sales of those self-driving cars goes through the roof, due to the AI part of things, I’m not sure if we’d call that a cause-and-effect per se. Anyway, with the rising tide, all boats rise, as they say.
We probably should also consider the other side of the coins on this discussion about EVs and AI self-driving cars.
Suppose that we aren’t able to achieve a true AI self-driving car?
Meanwhile, suppose that the auto makers and tech firms have been using EVs as the primary platform for this AI self-driving car attempts. Could this hurt the advent of EVs?
Maybe people would get confused and inextricably consider the AI and the EV as one thing.
Thus, if the AI doesn’t cut the mustard, perhaps consumers would partially blame the EV side.
Out goes the baby with the bath water.
Suppose the EVs cannot come down in cost and remain relatively expensive.
If the AI self-driving car is tagged on top of the EV, it presumably now becomes even more expensive.
Would this price out the AI self-driving car for the masses?
Would people perceive the AI self-driving car as an elitist toy?
This could generate a backlash against AI self-driving cars.
Another consideration is the range of the EV.
If it is consuming electrical power to run the car and to run the AI portions, it might need to frequently stop at a charging station to recharge. If you add to this the notion that many believe most AI self-driving cars will be used non-stop 24×7, and that they will become a dominant ride sharing mechanism, the cost to stop and thus lose money while sitting there and charging, well, it is going to hurt. In spite of the downsides about gasoline, the length of time to fill-up is minimal and the distance drivable is high.
For my article about the nonstop desire for AI self-driving cars, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/non-stop-ai-self-driving-cars-truths-and-consequences/
The EV world is working on these aspects of reducing the charging time and maximizing the distance an EV can go.
Meanwhile, though, it’s another consideration about having an AI self-driving car that becomes intertwined with an EV platform.
Since the EV and the AI self-driving car might be perceived as joined at the hip, given that both are rising up at about the same time, whatever happens to one can spill over into the other.
Imagine an AI self-driving car that goes awry and kills someone.
Will consumers and the public realize that this is perhaps due to the AI and has nothing to do with the EV?
If the public cannot separate the two, it could cause a black-eye on EV, even though this would presumably be completely unfair and unwarranted.
Sometimes when I’m on a plane flying to give a speech, the person in the seat next to me will be curious when I say that I’m in the midst of developing AI self-driving cars.
They will often say something like they wish they too had an electric car, stating as such under the assumption that EV and AI self-driving cars are one and the same.
The odds are that they will be, and we can pretty much go along with the idea that AI self-driving cars are going to be EVs. I usually just smile and mumble that yes, EVs are cool.
For those of you doing automotive power engineering, as an AI developer, all I can say is “Scotty, we need more power” (in the immortal words of Captain Kirk).
I thank you in-advance for doing so.
Copyright 2020 Dr. Lance Eliot
This content is originally posted on AI Trends.
[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/]