International race to build the self driving car: Who’s winning?

The major contenders include Google, Audi, Uber, Nissan, General Motors, Tesla and China’s Baidu.

Image via Google's self-driving car project web page. (

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2016 — While self-driving cars may seem like a thing of the distant future, they may not be as far away as we think. The battle is on to see who can get the first self-driving car out and about. But who is taking the lead?

Self-driving car. Image (c) Paul Tolenaar, via Flickr, CC 2.0.

Who Are the Contenders?

Before we can get into who is winning the Battle of the Self-Driving Cars, we need to consider who’s playing the game. Companies working to develop a self-driving car range from major tech companies to  longstanding manufacturing giants in the auto industry. Currently, the major, acknowledged contenders include Google, Audi, Uber, Nissan, General Motors, Tesla and China’s Baidu.

It is important to note the distinct aims of each type of company. That’s because while both the tech leaders and the motor vehicle manufacturing industry vets are looking to develop a self-driving car, they may not have the same goals in mind.

For example, those in the vehicle manufacturing industry are seeking to create a self-driving car for personal purchase and use.

But technology-oriented companies like Uber are looking to completely revolutionize the need for individuals to purchase cars at all. Uber hopes that by employing driverless cars, it can provide a service that is cheaper than owning a car, offers commuters in-car enabled internet service, cheap fares, thus eliminating the need for personal car purchases worldwide.

Why Self-Driving Cars?

Buying or using a self-driving car may seem like the essence of pure laziness. But there are actually a number of benefits a self-driving car could bring to society. First and foremost is safety.

A self-driving car can largely remove the risk of human error. When technology is in control of the car, it doesn’t matter how tired the drivers are, whether they’ve been drinking or simply not paying attention to the road. Such a vehicle removes the need for an alert individual to be in control behind the wheel, a safety factor that could drastically reduce car insurance premiums as well as the current, all-too-high number of automobile accidents and deaths resulting from current car and driver customs and technologies.

The introduction of a self-driving car is estimated to cut about 2,500 deaths from current statistics in 15 years in just the UK alone. In larger countries with higher populations like the United States, this number can only grow.

Sure, a self-driving car is very cool, but clearly, it can also be revolutionary.

Image credit: Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr, CC 2.0.

What is a Self-Driving Car?

Currently, there are two different types of self-driving cars under research and development, the semi-autonomous and the fully autonomous vehicle.

A semi-autonomous car will need some input from the driver, meaning it can’t make the entire trip on its own. But a fully autonomous self-driving car would not need the assistance of any driver or passenger throughout its entire journey.

In addition, there may also be two different styles of fully autonomous cars in our future. Within the next few years, we can expect to see what are known as “user-operated” fully autonomous cars enter the market. These vehicles can make the journey on their own, but they will still offer the option for a driver to take over if necessary as opposed to autonomous vehicles that don’t offer that option.

Further in the future, however, we can hope to see completely driverless vehicles. But while companies are currently working on developing completely driverless cars today, current regulations are preventing them from becoming a reality any time soon.

Who Will Be First?

As already noted, companies all over the world are looking to be the first to get their self-driving cars on the market. But no one is there yet. While Uber has already demonstrated test drives of its self-driving car onto the streets of Pittsburgh, China’s tech powerhouse Baidu is determined to beat the U.S. to the punch.

Even as the tech companies battle it out, the Detroit, the Germans and the Japanese aren’t out of the race. While Toyota, BMW and GM don’t expect to have cars on the market until sometime in the 2020s, Audi predicts it will have a fully autonomous car on the market by 2017.

It’s clear the race to be the first self-driving car producer isn’t over, and in the end, the finish will be close. But one thing is for sure: we’re already living in the future.

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