By Joseph Pudlewski
Although dozens, if not hundreds, of automotive and technology manufacturers are considering creating a self-driving car, only a handful will bring a model to production. Many concept cars are just that – concepts – with little to no chance of hitting the open road anytime soon. That’s why in summer 2019 we’ve handpicked the top companies that are currently working on a serious concept that we may one day park in our driveways.
We’ve been promised self-driving cars for a long time, but it’s only within the past decade that the technology actually started to become viable. The promise of making self-driving cars a reality has motivated nearly every automotive and technology giant to expedite the process. It’s a race to the top, and the pressure is on to become the company that will revolutionize the way we commute.
Fast moving pioneers established the expectations the public has for self-driving cars. Years of trial and error have given people a basis for what to expect – anything new that hits the market needs to exceed the expectation of previous attempts. Now that technology has developed to the point that self-driving cars can become refined, everyone has a hand in the game.
There are more than 20 companies who make or are actively attempting to make self-driving cars. A significant number of others have started implementing precursory technology, drawing speculation that they will soon begin designing their own self-driving concepts.
Notably, China is home to dozens, if not hundreds, of autonomous car companies. Unfortunately, the vast majority have yet to produce a single vehicle! On the bright side, drivers can find autonomous Chinese vehicles undergoing testing on the streets of California.
Recent Advancements in Driverless Car Technology
New developments have made the design and manufacture of self-driving cars a little easier. It’s become more evident to tech companies and automakers that the resources we have at our disposal are better than ever before. These advancements have encouraged more leaders in the automotive industry give self-driving designs a shot.
Chipmakers and Tech Giants are Getting Involved
Intel and Nvidia are household names. They’ve designed state-of-the-art chip technology for a whole host of electronics. These two major players have their hands in nearly every form of technology, and they’ve extended their reach beyond graphics cards and gaming laptops.
Intel’s innovation is centered around sensors and artificial intelligence that will allow self-driving cars to become smarter. Nvidia’s focus is primarily on artificial intelligence that learns, allowing tests of self-driving cars to produce real and measurable results with the benefit of self-correction for minor errors and new scenarios. Nvidia’s chips actively plan and strategize the same way an engaged driver would, taking self-driving tech to the next level.
Recently, Qualcomm applied for a permit to test self-driving car chip technology. They were granted that permit, but have not yet debuted the capabilities and intelligence of the chips in development.
Startups and Tech Companies are Turning to Automotive Manufacturers
In the past, Uber has experienced issues with fully automated vehicle testing. In March of 2018, a self-driving Uber vehicle manufactured by Volvo was involved in an accident where an Arizona woman was fatally injured. The collision was caused by a disabled safety feature that may have prevented the accident. The tragedy caused Uber to suspend their automated vehicle testing plans until a full investigation was conducted, and they have since resumed tests.
Uber, Lyft, Samsung, Amazon, and Bosch are all in testing phases for self-driving vehicles. These companies have an interest in monetizing their capabilities and raising their profits by reducing their labor costs. Automated delivery vehicles and ride sharing services are still a long way off, but the technology cannot be developed, tested, or approved without lengthy trial phases.
Partnerships between tech companies and automotive manufacturers are being formed every day. Any company who will ever need a car to do their work seems to be investing in the research and advancement of self-driving cars.
The Top 22 Self-Driving Car Manufacturers
While nearly every car manufacturer has expressed meaningful interest in developing self-driving cars, only a handful have made active efforts to develop their version of the concept. With so many reputable automotive brands taking competitive strides to be the first company to release the perfect self-driving car, it’s only a matter of time before the technology becomes mainstream.
Ford already manufactures self-driving cars, but they’re looking to take things to the next level. The iconic American car company is a cultural mainstay, and their presence carries a lot of weight. Ford has a loyal following, and their devoted customer base is likely to adopt whatever innovation they present to the market. Ford doesn’t want to let their loyalists down, so they’ve set their sights high.
Ford has an ambitious goal. They envision being market-ready for a fully automated self-driving car as soon as 2021. Rather than exploring different states of vehicular automation, Ford wants to go directly to the top. Their concept is bold – a car with no steering wheel and no gas pedal. Ford hopes to first debut this ambitious vehicle with ride hailing apps (like Uber and Lyft) for on-road testing. If their fully automated vehicle is a success, it’s safe to assume it will become a market-ready consumer product after the testing phase is successfully completed.
GM is putting their money where their mouths are. They’ve recently acquired Cruise Automation, a startup centered around self-driving vehicles. This investment set GM back a hefty $581 million. When coupled with GM’s $500 million investment in Lyft (an acquisition of 9% of the entire company), it’s clear that their interest resides somewhere in autonomous vehicles for ride hailing apps. This move confused many, because GM also owns GM Cruise, it’s own autonomous vehicle subsidiary.
GM has remained remarkably quiet about their self-driving car concept for their main brand. The world knows they’re up to something, but they aren’t quick to say exactly what they’re doing. It’s logical to assume they’re exploring ride apps or courier services in small areas, but they’ve yet to fully announce a plan. There are rumors that GM may debut a new self-driving car any moment now, although those rumors remain unconfirmed.
GM Cruise, on the other hand, is a much bigger deal. Cruise is a manufacturing plant for vehicles with the typical GM body shapes and styles that are designed and developed for self-driving ventures outside of their Lyft partnership. If GM continues to hold onto its 9% stake in Lyft, they may become an unstoppable force in ride hailing faster than anyone expects.
BMW has been working closely with tech leaders Mobileye and Intel to create a revolutionary self-driving car framework. The young partnership recently announced they’ve made great strides in developing consumer-ready self-driving vehicles. BMW has made a name for themselves as a luxury status symbol, and it’s safe to assume their self-driving variant will mimic the same aura of sophistication as the rest of their offerings.
BMW announced that they intend to have a final version of their self-driving models in production by 2021. Though they’ve not made any solid promises regarding release dates, they also anticipate that they will have fully autonomous vehicles in production shortly afterwards. BMW is playing it safe – they’ve made mention of the fact that they’re waiting to see what happens with regulations, laws, and infrastructure surrounding the production and sale of fully automated vehicles before they set anything in stone.
Volkswagen has a complicated history with self-driving cars. The company has attempted to invest in self-driving technology on numerous occasions, but nearly all of the deals have fallen through. While they’ve consistently expressed interest in dabbling with the idea, there always seems to be some kind of a barrier that prevents them from fully committing. A deal with self-driving startup company Aurora ultimately came to a halt and led Volkswagen into a different alliance.
Volkswagen isn’t going the proprietary route with their self-driving concepts. Instead, they’re gravitating towards Argo, Ford’s self-driving subsidiary. Their proposed $1.7 billion investment shows just how serious they are. Rather than expecting Volkswagen to come up with something new and revolutionary, expect them to become a joint part of Ford’s success in the self-driving arena. Volkswagen’s shooting to have a self-driving car in production by 2025.
Volvo and Uber have been working together for a number of years. The two have strived to create self-driving vehicles together, but have experienced many setbacks along the way. Throughout their many testing phases, the duo often paused to retool and improve their technology. Finally, they’ve created something they’re proud of.
Volvo has debuted a functioning alternate model of their already-existing XC90 SUV. This enhanced model has limited self-driving capabilities, complete with fail safes and backups, to assure the person in the driver’s seat can take control in unusual road conditions or react to sudden stimuli. This vehicle is specifically for use with Uber’s ride hailing service.
Volvo hasn’t announced an exact date regarding the consumer availability of this technology in the cars they manufacture, but they swear it’s coming. They’ve tentatively stated that the early 2020s looks promising for self-driving Volvo SUV’s that everyone can purchase.
If you haven’t heard of Waymo, don’t feel bad. Waymo is essentially Google – they’re both owned by Alphabet Inc. and have access to the same wealth of technology. Rather than manufacturing all of their own vehicles from the ground up, Waymo has made themselves available to a number of major vehicle brands. Waymo has collaborated with Fiat Chrysler in the past for different purposes. They’ve only recently debuted self-driving vehicles that they intend to use for their own autonomous ride hailing service, Waymo One.
Waymo is currently testing a self-driving crossover. They’ve partnered with Jaguar Land Rover to release the I-Pace, an electric self-driving car specifically for ride hailing. The I-Pace is currently testing in California. They are not yet an integral part of Waymo’s self-driving fleet, but they’re nearly prepared to become one. Waymo claims that their robotaxis will be operational by 2020, giving Uber’s self-driving fleet a run for its money.
Aptiv first made a name for themselves as Delphi Automotive. They rebranded and made some new and productive partnerships in their current space. Formerly a company focused on clean automotive manufacturing, Aptiv’s new approach is far more focused on technological innovations in the self-driving sector.
Volvo has Uber, and Aptiv has Lyft. Competition is high with ride hailing apps to create self-driving fleets, and Aptiv is throwing their hat into the ring. The most unique thing about Aptiv is that they’re both an automobile company and a self-driving software company. Rather than having to collaborate between companies, Aptiv can create proprietary self-driving vehicles from the ground up. Their recent partnership with Lyft shows that they’re interested in making money by taking on the competition.
Currently, Aptiv is opening research and development centers all around the globe. The company has recently expanded into Singapore and China, opening up new economic opportunities. While Aptiv is keeping their secrets to themselves, brief glimpses of test vehicles suggest that they are primarily four door sedans. They intend to test the vehicles for road readiness any moment now.
Daimler, manufacturer of Mercedes vehicles, and Bosch, consumer and industrial technology giant, have joined forces. Daimler’s years of experience producing high priced luxury vehicles couples perfectly with Bosch’s experience in technological innovation. The vehicles created through this partnership are likely to be released under the Mercedes name and be made available first as self-driving ride hailing vehicles.
They’re aiming for the loftiest possible goal – they’d like to mow right over self-driving cars and skip straight to fully automated driverless vehicles. This is an extraordinarily ambitious move, even when considering the amount of expertise these companies have in their respective fields. Visual concepts show a sleek, futuristic silver sedan with a glass top, but there’s no word on whether or not these concepts are a finalized version of the design. Because the venture is so large, Daimler-Bosch aims to release these vehicles sometime in the 2020s.
Testing, on the other hand, has already commenced. Daimler-Bosch recently chose San Jose as the pilot city for an automated ride-hailing service. That’s right – residents of San Jose will be able to ride in an autonomous taxi in the near future.
The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance was formed in 1999. This partnership encompasses a significant number of automotive brands, including Infiniti. The alliance is using its combined power, funding, and resources to embark on a new venture – self-driving cars. Since the alliance owns many brands, they intend to release ten different variants of autonomous vehicles and distribute these concepts among their many child brands.
The alliance’s recent partnership with Microsoft has afforded them with the technology necessary to actualize their self-driving car concepts. As ambitious as it may be, the company’s CEO reports that they intend to have many of their various self-driving concept cars out on the road as soon as 2020. They’ve also made a lofty commitment to have completely driverless cars cruising on urban roads by 2025.
Tesla has a mixed reputation for its vehicles and innovation. Elon Musk founded Tesla to be, in essence, the world’s most futuristic automobile company. There’s seemingly no form of technology that Tesla hasn’t tried to implement. They started with autopilot and have demonstrated numerous self-driving features over the years, and were only prevented by laws and regulations from releasing a vehicle they claimed to be fully autonomous.
Many people are confused by Tesla’s concepts. People who don’t know much about Tesla assume that the vehicle drives itself. That’s not the case. Its enhanced autopilot features make the vehicle semi-autonomous, but the presence of an alert driver is absolutely necessary. Tesla continues to work towards tested and safe updates for all of its vehicles, delivering software through the air to every Tesla in the world. Their concept is continuing to grow in small increments over time, and the future still holds promise for the self-driving capabilities of its automobiles. In fact, one recent concept includes a self-driving electric motorhome.
Although Volkswagen owns Audi, these parent and child brands have completely different plans and strategies when it comes to self-driving cars. Audi has an extensive history of experimentation with autonomous driving features. Some of their releases, such as the A8 sedan, utilize technology that isn’t even approved for use in the United States. In an attempt to break past barriers and deliver highly capable self-driving technology to the US market, Audi has fortified their game plan and developed something new.
Audi wants to do more than make self-driving cars. Autonomous Intelligent Driving, or AID, as the company calls it, is a new system of technology Audi is using to revolutionize self-driving cars. Audi has equipped sedans with their proprietary AID technology and intends to first debut self-driving vehicles for robotaxi purposes. Alexandre Haag, CTO of Audi, explains the company wants to take the application of that technology even further. Expect food delivery vehicles, large trucks, and even buses to be equipped with the technology over the course of the next decade.
Honda is widely regarded as a practical, dependable, and reliable automotive brand. Hondas are family cars, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be exciting. While Honda has been slower than some of its similarly sized competitors to dabble with self-driving technology, that doesn’t mean they’ve passed up the opportunity to become a part of the future.
Honda is taking a gentle and modest approach to self-driving cars. They aren’t looking to beat their competitors – they’re more interested in sticking with the times and delivering what people want in a safe and responsible way. Honda will have some self-driving capabilities in place by 2020, claiming that automated freeway driving is on the top of their list of priorities. Honda anticipates they’ll be finished developing and testing their nearly autonomous vehicle concept around 2025.
Zenuity is a partnership between Volvo and Swedish auto supplier Autoliv. Volvo as a parent company has diversified as much as possible, partnering with numerous automotive suppliers across the globe to test self-driving technology in various applications. This partnership was formed as a testing platform for smart driving tech that isn’t available in the United States just yet. Zenuity has been somewhat quiet about the features they’re intending to debut with their future releases.
Zenuity is utilizing proprietary self-driving technology called IntelliSafe. They ambitiously claim that they’re working towards a zero fatality goal, hinting that IntelliSafe may be one of the smartest vehicles in development. The body of the vehicle is a modified version of Volvo’s XC90 SUV, the same body they’re using for their Uber collaboration. The first 100 Zenuity partnership vehicles are slated to be sold in Sweden sometime in 2021.
Every tech giant wants to take a crack at self-driving car technology. It’s no surprise that Microsoft has ambitiously thrown their hat in the ring. Microsoft is using a combination of software, artificial intelligence, and robotics to create the perfect self-driving car technology. Their slow process suggests that they’ve continuously refined their approach for about half a decade. Microsoft utilizes high-definition mapping services and special lens technology to create new capabilities for self-driving tech.
Microsoft doesn’t intend to manufacture vehicles themselves. Instead, they appear to be creating functional technology that can be licensed to automobile manufacturers. This is a lucrative move – if they forego exclusive deals, they can see a portion of the profits from the sale of many different automotive brands. They’ve already licensed technology to Volvo, and have signed on to work with Toyota for the development of driver assisting robotics.
Paccar may not be a household name, but what they do is still instrumental to every household. The automotive company manufactures heavy duty commercial trucks, the kind used for delivery and logistics. Their recent partnership with Nvidia may have the potential to revolutionize the way shipments get from Point A to Point B.
Paccar is working to create self-driving commercial trucks. Autonomous trucks are thought to be much safer – many long haul truckers experience fatigue on the road, and having artificial intelligence to serve as autopilot may help to reduce driver fatigue and, as a result, accidents. Toyota, Tesla, Bosch, and Baidu have partnered with Paccar and Nvidia to make their concept a reality.
China’s biggest internet company Baidu has focused on autonomous driving for a number of years. In Spring of 2014, the company’s CEO Robin Li announced “the Android of autonomous driving”, the company’s pet side project. Several partnerships with automobile manufacturers have provided Baidu with numerous testing opportunities. The Chinese government has given their efforts the green light.
Baidu’s concept utilizes improved Apollo technology, similar to the starting point many American self-driving car makers have utilized. Initially, Baidu worked with BMW, but they parted ways due to creative differences. Now, Baidu’s self-driving concept vehicles are manufactured by Chinese carmaker Chery Automobile Company. Baidu intends to have cars at near complete levels of automation on the road in Beijing by 2020.
Apple has been shockingly slow in the self-driving car race. Most other competing tech giants (such as Alphabet Inc.) already have self-driving vehicles that are nearly ready for the market. Their self-driving initiative, titled Project Titan, has seen a lot of highs and lows. The company has employed NASA engineers to refine the technology they’ve kept under lock and key for the last few years.
Apple’s self-driving car utilizes a Volkswagen T6 transporter body with proprietary tech. These vehicles are currently being manufactured and demonstrated as employee transportation vehicles that shuttle staff between different Apple facilities. While Apple has filed patents, they’ve not yet announced whether or not they intend to make their technology available to consumers. We’re still waiting on the big day.
Hyundai typically manufactures safe, simple, and affordable vehicles. Not many people suspected that Hyundai would get into the self-driving game, but they’ve surprised the masses. Their slow burning partnership with Israeli company Autotalks is giving them a technology development platform. Their recent move to hire former GM autonomous driving tech leader moved Hyundai to open their Intelligent Safety Technology Center.
Hyundai’s efforts are only beginning – there’s no telling exactly how they’re approaching self-driving cars. They’ve announced they intend to start testing early prototypes in 2021, with a soft goal of creating a road-ready self-driving car by 2025. If a prototype currently exists, it’s being kept secret from the general public. Hyundai are keeping things hush-hush for the time being.
Huawei has always been known for android phones. They’re one of the largest telecommunication companies in China. Since 2016, they’ve quietly worked on self-driving technology in the background of their other operations. Vodafone wanted a piece of the action, partnering with Huawei in 2017 to merge ideas and fortify concepts via a Porsche test vehicle.
Huawei, Vodafone, and Porsche’s Concept
This trifecta’s technology involves smartphone controls integrated with an automobile’s controls. The automobile in question is the Porsche Panamera, which has been successfully test driven and improved since 2018. The technology in development is called Mate 10 Pro, and so far, its artificial intelligence capabilities have proven to be impressive. The technology allows the vehicle to recognize and differentiate between other vehicles, pedestrians, and objects it confronts. The vehicle can respond appropriately to its environment via its recognition capabilities.
Yutong is a Chinese transportation manufacturing company, specializing in mass public transport vehicles like buses. In early 2012, Yutong announced their plans to research and develop self-driving technology that may revolutionize the way China’s infrastructure operates. Greyhound Australia quickly took interest in Yutong’s project.
Yutong’s T12 model coach bus comes equipped with their self-driving technology. The bus is equipped to run in both manual and automatic modes. Greyhound Australia took on the T12 for a 6-month trial in June 2018. No major company has adopted the technology yet, making it safe to assume that Yutong is working behind the scenes to perfect their technology.
NIO is another Chinese automotive manufacturing company with an eye on mass production. The company primarily produces crossovers and SUVs with eye on the future. The automotive manufacturer recently made a major achievement for any automotive company: becoming publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
NIO’s EVE concept serves as the company’s vision for the future of the automotive industry. The concept serves as an adaptable living space and features powerful artificial intelligence technology. NIO plans to officially offer semi-autonomous electric vehicles in the United States some time during the 2020 model year.
NAVYA primarily produces shuttles designed to tackle public transportation needs, and now the manufacturer is striving to create an advanced form of autonomous travel. Today, their vehicles can be found operating in cities, airports, and college campuses. With more than 250 engineers, designers, and experts at the helm, NAVYA strives to raise safety standards in autonomous public vehicles.
Dubbed the AUTONOM SHUTTLE, NAVYA’s autonomous vehicle features optimized navigation and safety systems. The self-driving shuttle lacks a steering wheel and pedals, nodding towards the hands-off design experts believe will be standard in future autonomous models. Advanced guidance and detection systems, including Lidar sensors, generate data processed by deep learning programs to create a safe, hands-free ride.
Self-Driving Cars and the Future
Nearly every major automobile manufacturer working with a tech company wants people to be prepared for self-driving cars to hit the market in a few short years. Some of the more ambitious companies have worked quietly behind the scenes, letting consumers know when they’re ready to debut something new.
Despite the general public’s enthusiastic reaction to the prospect of self-driving vehicles, many manufacturers are shopping their concepts to app-based ride hailing companies first. This means that the general public is more likely to have an opportunity to ride in a self-driving car than to actually own one.
While many of the kinks in the technology necessary to power a self-driving car are still being worked out, we’re undoubtedly approaching the era of the fully autonomous vehicle. Regulations and laws will need to be negotiated and laid in place before a fully self-driving vehicle is allowed to hit the road. Even so, there’s no doubt enhanced self-driving capabilities are paving the way for a high tech future.