If you have any sort of interest in advanced technology, you’re no doubt familiar with the relatively rapid rise of autonomous driving technology. It hasn’t quite been perfected yet (although a few big time players in the market might contest that statement) but it has become clear that this technology is going to revolutionize our roads. It just might not quite be in the way we expect.
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A lot of us envision self-driving cars as straight-up substitutes for our current vehicles. We’ll go into our garages, slide into our cars, input a destination, and then sit back and enjoy the ride. In all likelihood, this will be an option at some point. But when you consider the people and companies looking to advance this market, it’s starting to seem as if the primary use of self-driving vehicles will be in creating a new type of public transportation. Essentially an automated, low cost taxi system.
Who’s going to lead the way in making this kind of system a reality? Right now there are still a lot of competitors. It will likely boil down to a couple of providers in the end. For now, here’s a look at who’s who in the race for automated transportation.
Elon Musk and Tesla tend to be out in front of some of the most exciting tech developments these days, and the push for autonomous cars is no exception. The most interesting thing is that Musk claims that all new Teslas are already equipped with the necessary hardware to be turned into self-driving vehicles. He isn’t trying to build a taxi fleet, as some other companies are, but in a way he appears to be sneakily stocking the U.S., one Tesla convert at a time, with vehicles that will eventually have the capacity to operate autonomously.
The same company that changed the notion of what a taxi service ought to look and operate like is already looking to evolve past drivers and toward software. And they appear to be well on their way to doing so. Uber isn’t actually developing the cars, but in September of this year they were already offering rides to select groups in self-driving Ford Fusions—and they’re looking to add Volvo SUVs to their fleets as well. Uber’s main hurdle is more advanced mapping in greater territories, which is vital to self-driving fleets’ widespread usage, but they’ve left no doubt about their intentions to create robotic taxi services for us to enjoy.
In a move directly aimed at taking on Uber (and perhaps Tesla as well), Ford has planned a self-driving ride-hailing service by 2021. They’ve been a little more open about their process than some other companies and appear to be in line to serve as more of an umbrella company than a direct developer. Ford has invested in four different start-ups to work on different aspects of making a massive, self-driving service a reality in just five years’ time.
Finally there’s Google, which has already been testing its own self-driving cars and fleet vehicles for some time now. In fact, Google has probably been in the field (at least publicly) for longer than any of the other companies on this list. That may or may not ultimately give them the advantage. We’ve already discussed how Musk is selling potential self-driving vehicles to the public, and Uber already has the infrastructure of a ride-hailing service to build upon. But from a purely technological standpoint, we still expect Google to lead the way.
There are other players in the market as well. GM is working on its own self-driving car concept, and Lyft isn’t expected to take Uber’s transition lying down. For the time being, these appear to be the four names most worth watching as we move toward a world of automated vehicles.
Blaine Kelton is a freelance writer and programmer currently living in Beverly Hills, Calif., who enjoys covering a number of different topics. From the latest technological advancements to new albums by his favorite artists, he’s eager to just write and get his work out there.