Self-driving cars, also known as driverless vehicles, are no longer fun concepts as seen in futuristic movies; the technology is here and commercialization is just around the corner. There are several companies already testing self-driving cars on the roads. Most of these vehicles are considered partially automated and require some amount of driver intervention. At the moment, experts cannot agree as to when fully autonomous self driving vehicles will be on the market for purchase.
Some experts predict that the self-driving car could be available by 2025. Even at this point, a human would still need to be in the driver’s seat, ready to gain control of the car if the technology stops working. Therefore, it could be many decades before cars are available without pedals or steering wheels. The issue is, there are many areas things that must be figured out prior to launching such a vehicle. For instance, government regulations must be implemented, an infrastructure that supports driverless vehicles must be constructed and liability insurance rules will need to be amended accordingly.
Nevertheless, the benefits of a self-driving car, such as increased fuel economy, a decrease in the number of accidents and the ability to have a cup of coffee while reading the paper on your way to work could give the unsure adopter a reason to make the purchase. With that being said, the following five companies are currently leading the way in self driving car technology.
In early 2015, Cruise Automation became the first company to sell technology that allows automobiles to drive themselves. The sensors on the car monitor highway markings while constantly adjusting the steering to ensure it is centered in the lane. Therefore, if any objects or vehicles come within close proximity, the car will slow down. The technology behind Cruise Automation’s incredible innovation actually thinks faster than any human can see without blinking, it does not get intoxicated, tired or distracted by a smartphone. Soon, the company will sell its RP-1 aftermarket kit that can convert any Audi A4 or S4 into a self-driving machine. The cost is $10,000 and the company plans for it to work with any vehicle.
Cruise Automation faces a major challenge: beating Google, Tesla, GM, Audi and Ford to market. The combined market cap between these companies is $700 billion. This does not make the company’s task impossible as Cruise Automation is a venture where ingenuity in the software and equipment can offset requiring a huge budget.
Beginning in 2009, Google started developing their self-driving technology in Lexus and Toyota Prius models around the streets of Mountain View, California, near their headquarters. Even to-date, Google has kept its testing in the neighborhood but the company said that they are slowly increasing the distance an adding new streets each week. Since the company first started testing its technology, there have been major advancements. For instance, the technology recognizes cyclists and pedestrians, detects hundreds of obstacles simultaneously and can even read stop signs to inform the car to stop.
In May 2014, Google unveiled its plans to create fully autonomous vehicles to be tested and revealed the prototype in January 2015. The cars do not have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal or brake pedal because they are not necessary to the functionality of the automobile. The sensors, software and internal hardware perform all of the tasks. At the moment, there are no plans to bring this technology into the market. However, if testing proves to be successful then Google will bring in partners to work on production.
In 2016, integrated chips and software from Mobileye that allows for hands-free driving will make an appearance, ahead of most of the competition. The company believes that within 20 years, the world will no longer have automotive accidents. Mobileye’s technologies interpret visual data as much as or more than a human. As a result, the company is forecast to grow by 53-percent to $220 million in 2016.
The technology utilizes and applies algorithms to video images taken from a video camera that detects objects, traffic lights, pedestrians and lane departures that are in close proximity. The software also warns drivers of hazards and applies hands-free breaking which has led to chips and systems that can be integrated into completely autonomous vehicles. The company is hopeful to be able to deliver the fully autonomous car by 2021 with the sensors, chips and other components costing less than $1,000.
Following the sale of Nokia’s mobile phone to Microsoft for $7.5 billion, the company is much leaner and can focus on the HERE division of map data that once belonged to Navteq. HERE Maps technology utilizes 80,000 data sources including cars driving on the ground to gather data using laser technology for 3D views, high-resolution cameras to capture street signs and speed limits as well as panoramic cameras. The HERE division also acquired Earthmine to support its 3D street level image intellectual property.
This is all important considering Nokia HERE has 90-percent of the market share for embedded automotive maps. As a result, they are in the process of building a map database for driverless cars. Regardless of the amount of automation that will be implemented into cars, they will all need precise map data. Therefore, Nokia is now considered to be a lean map company that could be a prime partner for many automobile companies or an acquisition target for a company like Google.
Best-known for it graphics processing chips used in video games, Nvidia has also been developing Drive PX, a self-driving car computer as well as the drive CX digital cockpit. This technology was also built to power car navigation and entertainment systems. The company’s largest automotive partners include Honda, Volvo, Tesla and Mercedes Benz. This industry is still small business for Nvidia but it is growing at a rapid pace as sales surged by 75-percent in 2015. As a result, Nvidia’s stock increased by 65-percent in 2015 and has grown by an additional 34-percent in 2016.
Nvidia has tough competition ahead with chip company Mobileye, Qualcomm, Intel and Texas Instruments, all of whom are dipping their toes in the water. In early 2016, Intel purchased Yogitech, an Italian company that has been working on safety within driverless cars. Luckily, the self-driving market is large enough to have more than one player.
Written by Garrett Parker
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