The driverless revolution is due any day now
The self-driving car is under development by a number of companies, and is largely expected to be the next big wave in car technology, if not locomotion in general. A number of companies have expressed very public interest in self-driving technology, so we could very well see this moonshot effort snowball into a full-blown sea change in how we get around.
Think about it: if a car could drive itself, hours of our time per day would be freed up for commuters everywhere. We could work on the drive to work. Or we could drive all the way across the US without spending hours at rest stops, making pit stops only to refuel or recharge. Convenience, however, isn't even the best aspect of self-driving cars. These autonomous vehicles are already proving significantly safer than normal cars, with the potential to save thousands of lives per year.
With so many companies working on the new tech, it can be hard to keep track of them all. That's why we've put together a complete list (as of this writing) of all the self driving cars under development.
Google has been working on self-driving cars for a number of years, and has been very public about it. The company first announced that it was working on the technology in 2012, and originally started with modified cars from the likes of Toyota, Audi, and Lexus. Soon, however, the company had built a fleet of self-driving cars, composed entirely of modified Lexus SUVs.
As if that wasn't enough for the company, it had soon developed a car of its own to test with, appropriately called the Google Car, which can be seen roaming the streets of northern California for testing. In fact, in June of this year, Google announced that its cars had completed 1 million miles of driving, which is a pretty amazing feat.
Google itself hopes to have self-driving cars on the roads by 2020, however it doesn't intend to become a car manufacturer itself, instead likely licensing the technology to other companies.
It was a little surprising to hear that Uber was working on self-driving cars in April of this year, however it certainly makes sense. If Uber didn't need to pay drivers, it would be able to make far more money, with company costs being significantly lower.
Uber is working on the technology with Carnegie Mellon, and has announced the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in partnership with the university. This is where the bulk of research will take place, and the center is being led by John Bares.
What we don't know much about is Uber's progress in self-driving technology, and the company has remained largely secretive about any developments that it has made since the announcement of the creation of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center. All we know more than this is that Uber has also opened a research and development facility in Arizona in partnership with the state's eponymous university.
Tesla developing self-driving technology is also something that makes sense, especially considering the fact that the company has largely remained at the forefront of automotive technology, both under the hood and behind the wheel.
In fact, Tesla has equipped its cars with many of the sensors that would be required in a self-driving car, enabling the company to turn on certain self-driving features with a simple software update. A few features are even already available, such as a mode that allows Tesla's cars to drive themselves on highways. Of course, drivers themselves have to maintain control in cities.
Apart from that, Tesla has hinted in the past that it may have something in the works with Google. As mentioned before, Google will likely license its technology to other companies, and Tesla certainly could be one of those companies.
Of course, we will have to wait and see, as it seems as though Tesla is also developing its own self-driving technology.
Honda is another company that has been pretty public about its development of self-driving cars, however it certainly hasn't gotten as much publicity as the likes of Google.
Honda's self-driving car currently looks similar to the car that Google uses to capture Street View images, with large sensors on the top of the car. The data captured by the sensors and cameras on the car is blended with GPS data, like street and speed limit information.
While it might not look like it's ready for the road, Honda's self-driving car is the culmination of years of safety and auto tech research. The company has allowed a number of reporters to take test drives, many of which have said that the car can merge into traffic better than some people.
Not only that, but the sensors can capture data hundreds of meters ahead of the car, showing traffic not only around the car but also quite a bit in the distance.
Mercedes' most notable involvement with self-driving technology has been with the "research car" called the F 015.
The car was designed to be ultra-futuristic in every way, with the interior of the car being extremely luxurious and roomy, offering plenty of room for things like working and sleeping. The two front seats of the car can also turn around so that the two sets of seats can face each other. The entire car is designed to be a driving experience from the year 2030.
As far as the technology behind it goes, Mercedes is careful not to label the car as a concept car, preferring to instead call it a "research car." In short, it is using the new car to develop its own self-driving technology. Mercedes says that it has made significant advancements in this, however the car still doesn't react very well to rain or extreme heat.
It's important to note that the car is still a prototype, however it does highlight the fact that Mercedes is seriously working on self-driving technology.
While some companies might be working with Google to develop self-driving technology, BMW has turned to Chinese search giant Baidu, often called the "Chinese Google."
In fact, Baidu says that it plans on releasing a fully-functioning autonomous vehicle by the end of the year – yes, this year.
The two companies first announced their partnership in April of 2015, and the goal is that the car will first be released in China. While it will be a prototype, it will be used to collect data and test how road-ready Baidu's self-driving technology is.
Audi is another carmaker set on getting a self-driving car out as soon as possible, and announced late last year that it hoped to put one on sale by 2016. That means that, sometime next year, we should have a self-driving car from Audi.
To prepare for the release, the company has built a modified A7, which it has been testing around the world, particularly in China.
Delphi, like Honda, has been concentrating more on the technology behind self-driving cars rather than what a self-driving car might look like. The company has, however, advanced in leaps and bounds with the development.
In fact, the team at Delphi managed a whopping 3,400 mile drive all the way across the US, from San Francisco to New York, using predominantly self-driving technology.
Delphi, like Google, has been testing its self-driving car tech on the streets of San Francisco, and its car has even encountered a Google car on the road, reporting that the two cars interacted in a way that was completely safe and secure.
The Cupertino firm's autonomous vehicle hasn't been confirmed, and probably won't be until we see it drive itself across the Apple event stage. However, with all the hype, it would be hard to imagine Apple not working on self-driving technology.
Rumors have been surfacing for months now about Apple building a team of top automotive engineers. Not only that, but the company has reportedly even been scoping out locations for top-secret car testing.
Only time will tell if Apple actually releases a self-driving car of any kind, as some outlets – citing sources close to the matter – report that the company will release an electric car before a driverless one.
Christian is a writer who's covered technology for many years, for sites including Tom's Guide, Android Central, iMore, CNN, Business Insider and BGR, as well as TechRadar.