Like Dogecoin devotees, the mayor of Reno, and the leaders of El Salvador, Aldo Baoicchi is convinced that cryptocurrency is the future. The CEO and founder of Canadian scooter Daymak believes so strongly that when he unveiled the company’s first autonomous car last month, the Spiritus 2023, he announced a bonus feature: the ability to exploit the cryptocurrency when the car is parked. Baiocchi told WIRED that the company has always developed software for this purpose, but the designers want the cryptocurrency for car owners to be as simple as pressing a button. He says solar energy on the roof of the three-wheeled electric car should help offset the energy consumption of Bitcoin mining.
“We have the equipment in the car. We think we can also mine and make some money for the rider,” he said.
Car buyers now consider factors such as safety, fuel economy and resale value. But some companies are starting to talk about the computing power packaged in autonomous vehicles as a selling point.
A Rand Corporation estimates that autonomous vehicles on the roads could save hundreds of thousands of lives and change the world, but they could also change the world when they are parked in the garage. The computing power in autonomous vehicles could be exploited to address issues as personal as editing a high-definition or global video as well as decoding a new virus.
That’s why autonomous vehicles are home to dozens of cameras, sensors and software systems that work together to navigate avoiding pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles. To do this, the vehicles are rich in computing power: Nvidia, which makes chips used in autonomous vehicles, says that a self-driving car can have computing power equivalent to 200 laptops in its luggage. This has led some people to refer to autonomous vehicles such as data centers or supercomputers on wheels.
Keith Strier, VP of Nvidia for AI initiatives around the world, predicts a world where government fleets of autonomous vehicles that remain inactive at night are deployed to address the computing needs of nations that do not have expensive supercomputers. It is too chairman of an OECD task force which helps countries calculate the amount of calculation they need. He says the group plans to release a document later this year that draws attention to the role that autonomous vehicles could play in providing those IT resources.
Strier says turning millions of vehicles into a supercomputer would be more resilient and less vulnerable to attack than a large supercomputer, the approach commonly taken today. In the past, supercomputers were more often dedicated to academic and government research projects such as weather forecasting, but powerful computers now play a role in sectors such as economics and innovation and are increasingly associated with the security and national prosperity of a nation.
“The idea has tremendous potential because we don’t look at thousands, but at tens of millions of supercomputers in these cars,” he says. “In the United States or Germany it may not be that big, but in a smaller country, as trucks and autonomous vehicles hit the road, it completely changes the computing potential in that country.”
Technical challenges remain, but the idea seems to be gaining traction among companies selling hardware to manufacturers. Qualcomm currently works with more than 20 car manufacturers, advocating technology that allows vehicles to communicate with each other via 5G. Nvidia is also increasing its presence in cars: From 2024, Mercedes will start manufacturing vehicles with an Nvidia GPU inside.
Daymak, the Canadian manufacturer of vehicles and scooters, is just the latest company to sell cars based on more than the mileage or what’s under the hood. Ford is selling its F-150 electric pickup as it can power your home for days.
Not everyone thinks that touching the computer of a car for purposes beyond driving makes sense. Shaoshan Liu is founder of Perceptin, a company focused on self-driving and computer vision with offices in the United States and China. It calls discharging calculations from autonomous vehicles to cryptocurrency a wild and impractical idea that raises questions about energy consumption and network bandwidth costs, among other things.