Self-driving vehicles could overwhelm current data centre market

self-driving car

According to a report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange, digital infrastructure is woefully unprepared to handle the substantive increase of data self-driving vehicles would generate.  Auto manufacturers are making unprecedented investments in electric vehicles (EVs) in response to consumer demand and climate trends. Those investments are laying the groundwork for more self-driving or autonomous vehicles, as EV market growth is an important leading indicator for self-driving technology.

Widespread adoption of self-driving EVs faces several significant barriers including social acceptance, safety, and regulatory restrictions. But according to the report, another major challenge that is often overlooked is the monumental impact these vehicles will have on the data centre market.

“Self-driving vehicles are expected to generate unthinkable amounts of data that will have a profound impact on the markets for data centre storage and computation,” Jeff Johnston, lead communications economist with CoBank, said. “And there’s an enormous chasm between the existing digital infrastructure and what is needed to support widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles.”

Without major technological advancements in data computing and storage processes, it is unlikely the industry will be able to handle the deluge of data self-driving EVs will generate, Johnston added.

The projected impact widespread adoption of autonomous driving EVs would have on data centres is stunning. According to the Automotive Edge Computing Consortium (AECC), self-driving EVs may eventually need to offload as much as 5,000 gigabytes of data per hour of operation. To put that into perspective, in 2020 the average person worldwide generated about 150 gigabytes per day.

Holon Investments estimates the global self-driving fleet could reach 400 million by 2035. Extrapolating these numbers implies the annual global datasphere will surge from 64 zettabytes in 2020 to an eye-popping 10,000 to 15,000 zettabytes in 2035—just from self-driving vehicles.

An abrupt switch to driverless cars is unlikely. The more likely scenario is a gradual adoption as auto manufacturers’ move up the autonomous driving scale (1-5), starting with commercial applications before moving on to consumer use.

However, some local jurisdictions are beginning to allow limited use of self-driving technologies for ride share services. Las Vegas announced that starting this year, it will allow Lyft and Motional to deploy a limited fleet of self-driving, driverless taxis with a full-fledged commercial launch slated for 2023. And Tesla CEO Elon Musk has indicated he expects Tesla will achieve level 4 autonomy this year. 

“We have a long way to go before self-driving EVs are adopted at scale, and technology will look a lot different when that happens,” Johnston said. “But even if the current estimates are on the high side, the industry will still likely face major challenges in how data is stored and processed.”

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