As Cruise Buys Solar Energy, it’s a Good Reminder that Autonomy Requires Electricity

Self-driving vehicle company Cruise announced earlier this week that it is purchasing solar power to power its fleet of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. Cruise does this through Farm to Fleet, a program it created with BTR Energy to buy renewable energy credits (RECs) from farms that also host solar farms.

In a company blog post, Cruise said it bought RECs from Sundale Vineyards and Moonlight, two farms in California’s Central Valley, earlier this spring. Farm to Fleet not only provides clean energy for Cruise’s cars, it also generates income for the farms in the program.

Cruise’s announcement is a good reminder that all of the autonomous vehicles we write about here at The Spoon – vans, sidewalk robots, drones – need electricity. At first glance this may seem obvious, but where and how autonomous vehicles are powered is an important one for robot startups, delivery services, and local governments.

As Cruise notes, the company operates its own charging stations for electric vehicles so that the switch to green electricity can be carried out completely independently. But what happens to smaller sidewalk robots or drones that are used by various companies in densely populated urban areas? Space must be created for vehicles to be charged, and this space must not interfere with the natural flow of people on public sidewalks and streets. Once you have the space, you need the actual electricity and enough of it. Robot and drone companies like to advertise that their solutions are greener than having a two-ton car on the street bringing you a burrito. That’s right, but that commitment to a cleaner world should ideally extend to greener energy

This is not the most pressing issue for robot and drone companies who have much more immediate concerns such as regulations and economics of scale when they launch. But if you think about basic infrastructure issues like electricity now, it will help autonomous vehicle companies to use them more easily in the future.

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