The race to get self-driving cars on the road is speeding up and there's big prize money at stake for whoever crosses the line first. The autonomous vehicle market will grow from $54.23 billion in 2019 to $556.67 billion in 2026, according to Allied Market Research estimates.
Waymo took the lead in December 2018 when the Google subsidiary launched a self-driving robotaxi service in the Phoenix area, but a number of other companies are closing in behind. They include a range of contenders in the UK, where the government expects to have fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2021 and a testbed of 26km of public road in London has been launched.
We look at who's developing driverless vehicles, from traditional carmakers to technology titans.
Apple has been reticent about its autonomous vehicle research but rumours about its efforts have swirled since documents obtained by the Guardian in 2015 confirmed the existence of the Project Titan initiative.
The secretive project was curtailed in January 2019 when Apple dismissed more than 200 people from the division, but was revived months later by the acquisition of self-driving startup Drive.ai. The Californian company was valued at $200 million in 2017 but had struggled since then and was due to shut down when Apple snapped it up for an undisclosed sum, according to a state regulatory filing.
Apple is also currently testing a fleet of Lexus RX450h SUVs equipped with racks of LIDAR and radar sensors in California.
Months later, Uber unveiled its latest self-driving car: a modified Volvo XC90 that mixes human controls including steering wheels and brake pedals with automated installed steering and braking systems
Uber's self-driving trucks are already being trialled in Arizona and the company plans to buy "tens of thousands" of self-driving cars from Volvo. According to an estimate by the Financial Times, the deal could be worth $1.4 billion if Uber buy all 24,000 of Volvo's XC90 SUVs mentioned in the agreement.
Volvo is using Nvidia's Drive AGX Xavier computer to power its new Level 2+ assisted driving vehicles, which it intends to start producing in the early 2020s. The Nvidia system will enable Volvo to monitor drivers and their surroundings and implement new connectivity services, energy management technology, in-car personalisation options, and autonomous drive technology.
The Swedish carmaker has also partnered with Uber to manufacture self-driving cars that it intends to ship in 2019, with Baidu to developing autonomous electric vehicles, and with Nanyang Technological University and Singapore's Land Transport Authority to launch the world's first 12-metre autonomous bus.
Waymo appears to be leading the race to get driverless cars on the road.
The Alphabet subsidiary became the first company to offer a commercial robotaxi service using driverless technology when it launched Waymo One in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona in December 2018.
The following February, Waymo topped the State of California's annual reports of self-driving car disengagements, which covers all companies that tested their vehicles on the state's public roads. Waymo reported that a driver had to take control of its cars once every 11,017 miles, almost double the distance of the previous year.
Waymo has also created a new method of monetising its work. In March, it began selling its lidar technology to any other company that doesn't compete with its robotaxi business, seeking customers in sectors from agriculture to archeology.
Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler has teamed up with arch-rival BMW to develop self-driving car technology.
The partnership between the two German automotive giants will initially focus on developing the technologies for driver assistance systems, automated driving on highways and parking features up to level four, which they aim to sell by the mid-2020.
Daimler previously announced that it aims to launch driverless robot taxis in the early 2020s. The company has licences to test its self-driving vehicles on public roads in Germany, the USA and China, where it is the first foreign company granted permission to test its autonomous cars.
It has also partnered with Bosch on a self-driving car pilot that will launch in Silicon Valley in 2019 and to develop an "Automated Valet Parking" service that autonomously takes a car from a drop-off area to a free space in a car park after one click of a smartphone app.
Daimler has a long history of working on self-driving cars. The company claimsthat the pilot system in the Mercedes-Benz Museum is the world's first infrastructure-assisted solution for an automated drive up and park service.
BMW's partnership with Daimler to develop autonomous driving technology is the latest in a long list of driverless car projects.
The company has worked with Intel and Mobileye to develop autonomous BMWs and invested in self-driving startup Nauto alongside fellow automakers GM and Toyota. It also briefly worked with Baidu to produce a vehicle designed specifically for the Chinese market, but the partnership was dissolved. Fortune reported that BMW's China CEO Olaf Kastner said "we now have found that the development pace and the ideas of the two companies are a little different".
Existing BMWs already use a variety of autonomous technologies, including the ConnectedDrive driver assistance system and intelligent parking.
At the 2019 CES show in Las Vegas, Nvidia announced what it claims to be the world's first commercially available Level 2+ automated driving system. The Nvidia AutoPilot system integrates multiple AI technologies, including autonomous driving perception that company says will allow supervised self-driving vehicles to go into production by 2020.
"A full-featured, Level 2+ system requires significantly more computational horsepower and sophisticated software than what is on the road today," said Rob Csongor, vice president of Autonomous Machines at Nvidia.
"Nvidia AutoPilot provides these, making it possible for carmakers to quickly deploy advanced autonomous solutions by 2020 and to scale this solution to higher levels of autonomy faster."
In January 2018, Reuters reported that 320 companies were using the Nvidia Drive computing platform to accelerate the production of autonomous vehicles.
The chipmaker's GPU technology has already been used in Uber's self-driving vehicles, while Volkswagen has used Nvidia's Drive IX SDK to enhance the AI features, gesture control and language processing of its autonomous cars.
Nvidia is also working with Silicon Valley startup Aurora to build a new self-driving hardware platform.
German automotive manufacturer Continental wants to combine autonomous vehicles with delivery robots to create a more efficient distribution system.
The company unveiled its vision at the 2019 CES tech show in Las Vegas. The system uses the Continental Urban Mobility Experience (CUbE) autonomous vehicles for the bulk of the journey, and then release robot delivery dogs that take the package on the final yards up to the recipient's doorstep.
"Our vision of cascaded robot delivery leverages a driverless vehicle to carry delivery robots, creating an efficient transport team," said Ralph Lauxmann, head of systems and technology in Continental's chassis and safety division.
"Both are electrified, both are autonomous and, in principle, both can be based on the same scalable technology portfolio. These synergies create an exciting potential for holistic delivery concepts using similar solutions for different platforms. Beyond this technology foundation, it's reasonable to expect a whole value chain to develop in this area."
A consortium led by Oxbotica, a self-driving software provider, will begin trials of autonomous vehicles in London in December after successfuling testing its vehicles in Oxford.
The cars will first map the streets of Hounslow and then use the data to understand the street signs and lane markings using Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomy software, radar, lidar sensors, onboard computers, and cameras. The cars are expected to be autonomous by Christmas.
The project is the latest initiative from the DRIVEN consortium of partners, who are backed by an £8.6 million grant from Innovate UK. Nominet and AXA XL, two other members of DRIVEN, will be testing data transfer during the trial. Oxbotica is also engaged in a separate self-driving venture with cab firm Addison Lee.
"Being autonomous before Christmas will showcase the huge amount of work Oxbotica's expert team of engineers has completed since the DRIVEN consortium was established," said Dr Graeme Smith, Chief Executive of Oxbotica,
"These trials further demonstrate to the wider UK public that connected and autonomous vehicles will play an important role in the future of transport. This milestone shows the advanced state of our capabilities and firmly keeps us on the road to providing the technology needed to revolutionise road travel.”
Cab firm Addison Lee plans to roll out autonomous taxis on London roads by 2021.
The company will work with self-driving software specialists Oxbotica to create digital maps of more than 250,000 miles of public roads and traffic features in and around London in preparation for the vehicles.
“Urban transport will change beyond recognition in the next 10 years with the introduction of self-driving services, and we intend to be at the very forefront of this change by acting now," said Addison Lee Group CEO Andy Boland in a statement.
"Autonomous technology holds the key to many of the challenges we face in transport. By providing ride-sharing services, we can help address congestion, free space used for parking and improve urban air quality through zero-emission vehicles."
Huawei and Audi are combining their respective expertise in IT and carmaking to develop autonomous vehicles. At the Huawei Connect conference in Shanghai, China, the companies unveiled a prototype of the Audi Q7 with Huawei's Mobile Data Center (MDC) fitted into the boot to support "urban automatic driving environments".
"As cars get smarter, we take advantage of our leading ICT technologies with Audi – one of the world's most successful premium car brands – to lead automatic driving into the fast lane," said William Xu, Director of the Board and Chief Strategy Marketing Officer of Huawei. "Very soon, consumers will enjoy more secure, comfortable, convenient, and intelligent self-driving services."
Huawei previously taught its flagship AI-powered smartphone how to drive a car. The 'RoadReader' project transformed a Porsche Panamera into a driverless vehicle that uses the AI capabilities already in the Huawei Mate 10 Pro to automatically detect obstacles in its path.
By combining AI with object recognition the technology can distinguish between thousands of objects as they appear and take the most appropriate course of action when it sees them.
"Our smartphone is already outstanding at object recognition," Andrew Garrihy, chief marketing officer, Huawei Western Europe, said at the time. "We wanted to see if in a short space of time we could teach it to not only drive a car, but to use its AI capabilities to see certain objects, and be taught to avoid them."
Toyota is working with Uber to bring autonomous ride-sharing to market by integrating their technology into purpose-built Toyota vehicles to be deployed on Uber's network. Pilot trials of the fleet will begin in 2021.
The Japanese automaker has also announced that it will spend almost $3 billion to build software for autonomous cars under a new company called Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development. The company is constructing a new a new closed-course facility to test the technology.
Baidu is developing Level 4 automation vehicles in the Autonomous Driving Unit (ADU) based in Beijing and in Silicon Valley. It plans to launch a driverless car in the second half of 2015.
The company began working on self-driving cars in 2014 and tested them on roads in China the next year. It has also developed an open autonomous driving platform called Apollo which has been opened to third parties including BMW. Blackberry is integrating its QNX Hypervisor 2.0 operating system into Apollo, which includes vehicle hardware, software and cloud data platforms.
General Motors claims to have developed the first production-ready vehicle built from the start to operate safely on its own, with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or manual controls. It plans to put the Cruise AV on roads in 2019.
The US auto giant has acquired a Californian autonomous vehicle company called Cruise Automation and a lidar technology startup called Strobe to help develop its technology.
Ford plans to have a fully autonomous vehicle in operation by 2021. The company has been testing self-driving cars for more than 10 years and was the first automaker to test autonomous vehicles in the snow and at Mcity, a full-scale simulated real-world urban environment at the University of Michigan.
To accelerate the business and capitalise on market opportunities, Ford has turned its self-driving car programme into a separate company, called Ford Autonomous Autonomous Vehicles.
Ford expects to invest $4 billion (£3.1 billion) in its AV efforts through 2023, including its $1 billion (£800 million) investment in self-driving software Argo AI.
Transport firm Stagecoach has announced plans to trial a full-sized driverless bus for the first time in the UK.
The single-decker will be produced in partnership with bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) and technology company Fusion Processing and is expected to be ready for use by the end of this year.
Due to legal restrictions, the bus will initially be used in autonomous mode only within the depot environment, but Stagecoach expects the technology be used more widely in future, including on services carrying passengers.
Swiss car manufacturer Rinspeed and Samsung subsidiary HARMAN International have developed a concept car that they believe could hit the road by 2025.
The Rinspeed SNAP is designed for full level 5 autonomous driving and has no steering wheel. It consists of a chassis and detachable passenger pod that provides a personalised user experience for rest or entertainment.
"Various forward-looking features will be displayed in the Rinspeed SNAP to accomplish this flexible environment, including true Level 5 infotainment, an intelligent personal assistant, the ability to personalise the car to individual needs, and full connectivity to the outside world," said Dr. Mike Peters, HARMAN Executive Vice President and President, Connected Car Division.
The SNAP concept car will receive its European premiere at the Geneva International Motor Show in May 2018.
Entering the New Year on a high, car maker Volkswagen announced that it will be partnering with Silicon Valley startup Aurora to assist with the future of its self-driving car fleet.
The car manufacturer aims to launch self-driving taxi fleets across a variety of cities in 2021 and has announced plans to launch dozens of test vehicles in 2018 in partnership with Aurora.
Alongside this, Volkswagen has also partnered with Nvidia to develop an intelligent co-pilot system, which is expected to provide convenience and assistance features using sensors both inside and outside of vehicles. This is will be performed using Nvidia's Drive IX platform.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has joined BMW Group, Intel, and Intel-owned Mobileye to develop an autonomous driving platform, it announced in August 2017.
The partnership allows the companies to draw on each other’s individual capabilities and resources, creating scalable automated driving technology for other car manufacturers to use.
The news comes a year after Intel, Mobileye and BMW Group partnered to create an open platform for driverless cars by 2021.
Earlier this year, Intel bought Israel-based driverless car technology firm Mobileye for $15.3 billion (£12.5 billion), meaning Intel will pay $63.54 (£52.39) per share.
Intel and Mobileye are already in partnership together with BMW to put a fleet of 40 autonomous BMW 7 Series cars on the road by the end of 2017.
This announcement came some months after the initial partnership began in July 2016, when BMW, Intel, and Mobileye announced plans to produce an open platform for driverless cars by 2021. And now with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles joining, the possibilities are growing at a rapid rate.
At CES 2017 in Las Vegas, Intel launched 'Go', a 5G-ready software and hardware platform designed to support the development of self-driving vehicles, along with an SDK to go with it.
German car manufacturer Audi will use Nvidia technology to bring its driverless cars to market by 2020, both companies announced at CES 2017.
While the partnership between Audi and graphics cards maker Nvidia is nothing new, more recently, Audi has been using Nvidia's AI platform to intelligently monitor of road conditions and to deliver technology for its autonomous vehicles.
This continued partnership will see Audi and Nvidia develop a 'Level 4' autonomous vehicle - a car capable of driving entirely autonomously.
Created by a small group of graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), nuTonomy provides software and algorithms specifically for driverless cars.
Choosing Singapore as its test location, nuTonomy has already applied sensors to the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car prototype. nuTonomy algorithms can direct the car around complex urban roads by GPS mapping the streets and using localisation from the LiDAR sensors.
In August 2016, nuTonomy claimed to have launched the first-ever public trial of a 'robo-taxi' service in Singapore’s business district. Local residents can book a free ride via its smartphone app and try out nuTonomy's self-driving cars.
What's more, in November 2016 NuTonomy announced it would test its self-driving cars on public roads in Boston, MA by the end of 2016.
June 2017 saw nuTonomy announce a strategic R&D partnership with taxi-hailing firm Lyft focused on 'understanding and optimising the end-to-end experience of autonomous vehicle passengers'.
Google, BMW and Tesla's driverless car tech supplier Bosch claimed last year that its automated driving systems will bring it €1 billion worth of annual sales by the next year with their own sales of surround sensors for driverless cars reaching 50 million in 2014.
During Automotive News World Congress 2015, Bosch's Wolf-Henning Scheider highlighted its 10 year plan, claiming that full auto-pilots (in which no driver interference is needed) will be launched by 2025.
Bosch is also part of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford, Silicon Valley Robotics Forum (SVRF) and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.
Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk claims that all Tesla cars will be fully driverless in two years. Tesla already has a semi-automative car, namely the Tesla 'S' model that can train each other using ‘deep learning’ algorithms sent out and processed by the fleet’s sensors.
This information teaches the cars about in-lane changing and spotting obstacles and should improve day-by-day.
Founded by Stan Boland, Steve Allpress and John Redford, FiveAI is a UK-based autonomous vehicle software startup.
FiveAI uses AI and machine learning software intended to remove the need for the 3D mapping of environments, which is the current method used in autonomous vehicle research.
In July 2016, FiveAI secured $2.7 million of equity funding in an effort to apply strong artificial intelligence to driverless cars. Main investors include Amadeus Capital Partners with Spring Partners and Notion Capital.