AI Self-Driving Cars and Electrical Vehicles (EVs): Necessary Partners Or Optional Teammates

Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider

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[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:]

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kind of.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Copyright © 2020 Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a renowned global expert on AI, Stanford Fellow at Stanford University, was a professor at USC, headed an AI Lab, top exec at a major VC.

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