Analyzing the Leaders in the Self-Driving Car Race

The auto industry is on the verge of a titanic shift with the rise of artificial intelligence paving the way for self-driving cars. Autonomous vehicle (AV) development is heating up and there are some prominent companies striving to put out the most advanced vehicle and establish market presence. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have tremendous potential in both the mass market and as a ride-hailing service.

Let’s take a look at the premier players in the self-driving car race!

Tesla

Tesla is no stranger to leading new waves of innovation, and CEO Elon Musk is focused on leading the wave of AVs towards mass adoption.  Their newer models already have advanced autonomous driving capabilities with eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and one forward-facing radar. Musk recently said that by 2020, “Tesla’s autonomous system will have improved to the point where drivers will not have to pay attention to the road.” Tesla also recently unveiled their new microchip boasting over 6 billion transistors in its tiny 260 mm frame, which Musk has famously called “the best chip in the world.”

Tesla has the ability to leverage its current fleet of popular cars on the market to acquire valuable data from their customers’ travels. They possess millions of miles of data capturing how people drive as well as the environment in order to facilitate smarter computer driving in their future models.

Tesla has announced plans to unveil a “robotaxi” fleet of autonomous vehicles to compete in the ride-hailing market with Uber and Lyft. If Tesla is the first to market with an AV taxi service, it will put the pressure on the rest of the field, whom will be playing catchup to one of the world’s most innovative companies. Their brand popularity and high-performance cars could propel them to be the preferred ride-hailing option of the future.

Google

Google’s subsidiary Waymo is arguably the furthest along technologically towards 100% autonomous cars. They have been feverously working on the autonomous vehicle project since 2009 and have made fantastic strides. Waymo’s self-driving minivans use three different types of LIDAR sensors, eight cameras, and five radar sensors.

As of late 2018, Waymo vehicles had driven an impressive 10 million miles across over 25 US cities. Waymo is also developing a self-driving taxi fleet of their own and is presently testing out their early rider program in Phoenix, Arizona. They plan on scaling the service with the Google Play app and are looking to build their ride-hailing service to compete with Uber and Lyft.

Google has a competitive advantage with their immense resources and popularity. They also have a highly effective method to collect data with their platform Google Maps. Waymo has already partnered with Chrysler and Jaguar to roll out over 80,000 vehicles in the coming years.

The Field

The race to autonomous vehicles includes other notable competitors, as well as numerous companies that could feasibly enter the market and compete. There are few barriers to entry in the AV industry because of how early we are in its development, so any number of the big auto companies could lay down some capital and start developing their own technology. We have recently seen a few prestigious companies, notably BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen announce their intentions of entering the AV market.

We have also seen Uber and Lyft aggressively pursuing this technology in order to preserve their dominant market share within the ride-hailing industry. Lyft appears to have a slight edge over Uber at the moment, due to their partnership with Aptiv, a global leader in AV technology, who has already provided thousands of rides to Lyft customers in the Las Vegas area. Lyft also acquired 3D-mapping company Blue Vision to help crowdsource maps and pair with their lidar technology.

Uber is a few years underway with their autonomous vehicle progress, but hit a major roadblock after a fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona. They are now back on the road in major cities like Pittsburgh and San Francisco to catch up and acquire valuable data. Uber has a competitive advantage over Lyft in brand prestige, which has led to partnerships with prominent auto companies like Toyota last year.

Since we are still relatively early stages of autonomous vehicle development, there are sure to be more companies joining the race in the coming years. Leading auto companies are starting to recognize the immense potential of AV ride-hailing fleets, as well as the appeal of a mass market self-driving car. We can expect to see a highly competitive AV market over the next few years.

Our Prediction

It is difficult to accurately predict which company has the upper hand at the moment, but the favorite is looking like Tesla with their competitive advantage in data collection.

The technology appears to be superb for all of the major companies in this race, but if Tesla’s new chip is as good as Musk insists, then Tesla may be the first to reach full autonomy. Self-driving capabilities would be yet another incentive for consumers to purchase a Tesla. Their cars have a heightened appeal factor in comparison with Waymo, because Tesla has already established they can make safe, reliable, high-performance vehicles for the mass market.

As is true with the majority of breakthroughs in tech, the real winner will be the consumer. When the competition heats up, we will witness a wave of innovation in the auto industry. Consumers will enjoy the benefit of being relieved of driving themselves and heightened road safety if the technology continues to progress.

Who do you think will win the self-driving car race? Join the debate in the comments below!

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