S. Sudhakar, V. Sze, S. Karaman, “Data Centers on Wheels: Emissions from Computing Onboard Autonomous Vehicles,” to appear in IEEE Micro, Special Issue on Environmentally Sustainable Computing. [ PDF ]


While much attention has been paid to data centers’ greenhouse gas emissions, less attention has been paid to autonomous vehicles’ (AVs) potential emissions. In this work, we introduce a framework to probabilistically model the emissions from computing onboard a global fleet of AVs and show that the emissions have the potential to make a non-negligible impact on global emissions, comparable to that of all data centers today. Based on current trends, a widespread AV adoption scenario where approximately 95% of all vehicles are autonomous requires computer power to be less than 1.2 kW for emissions from computing on AVs to be less than emissions from all data centers in 2018 in 90% of modeled scenarios. Anticipating a future scenario with high adoption of AVs, business-as-usual decarbonization, and workloads doubling every three years, hardware efficiency must double every 1.1 years for emissions in 2050 to equal 2018 data center emissions. The rate of increase in hardware efficiency needed in many scenarios to contain emissions is faster than the current rate; we discuss several avenues of future research unique to AVs to further analyze and potentially reduce the carbon footprint of AVs.