The world’s biggest technology companies are ready to revolutionise the way we travel, and it’s widely agreed that aside from Elon Musk‘s Hyperloop , Self-Driving cars are the next big thing.

By Malek Murison

While Google have been developing Self-Driving cars for a few years now, it looks like both Apple, one of the few companies who can match Google in terms of capital to invest in hi-tech projects, and Tesla, are set to join in the race. Taxi service Uber are also in the testing phase with their own driver-less vehicles. But don’t think it’s just the traditional technology giants getting involved. The big names in German engineering, such as Audi, BMW and Daimler, aren’t too happy with the American invasion of the automotive industry, and as such have teamed up to purchase ‘Here’, Nokia’s mapping technology – a big step in developing autonomous vehicles of their own.

So it look likes there are plenty of runners in the race, but how far along are they, and when can you expect to take a ride in a Self-Driving car?…

The Competitors

Google

Google's Self-Driving cars have collectively travelled more than 1 million miles. Copyright: Google
Google’s Self-Driving cars have collectively travelled more than 1 million miles. Copyright: Google

Google have been developing Self-Driving cars since 2009, which means they have a clear head start of their rivals in terms of data gathered. Google’s software is learning all the time, using previous journey’s to predict what other road users might do, as well as making the sensors gathering the information more and more accurate. Because of this more test miles on the road counts for a lot, and Google have clocked well over one million. To begin with Google used their Self-Driving software with ordinary cars from Lexus and Toyota, but last year they unveiled a purpose-built car and have been testing it out on the streets of California and Texas ever since. Admittedly there have been a couple of accidents, but it looks as though these are down to other road users. They can be pretty distracting it seems. Google don’t plan to produce and sell their own self-driving cars, but are looking to partner with established automotive companies in the future.

Apple

Nobody knows how advanced Apple's Project Titan is, but the poaching of staff from competitors and documents showing a search for test facilities suggest it's further than you might think...
Nobody knows how advanced Apple’s Project Titan is, but the poaching of staff from competitors and documents showing a search for test facilities suggest it’s further than you might think…

Apple are notoriously secretive about their side-projects, and their much discussed Self-Driving electric car, codenamed Project Titan, is no different. Nobody really knows exactly how far along they are in terms of development, but documents obtained by the Guardian earlier this month at least confirmed the existence of Project Titan. Surprisingly though, these documents suggest that Apple may be a lot closer to Google than first thought, as they appear to be actively scouting for places to test their prototype. This, after the news that they’ve been poaching high level engineers from their rivals, means that it might not be too long before we hear some exciting news.

Tesla

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced software updates which can make his electric cars autonomous when parking and on the motorways
Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced software updates which can make his electric cars autonomous when parking and on motorways

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is no stranger to ambitious, forward thinking plans, and is about to roll out the latest software updates for his fleet of electric cars. The update will include  automatic parking and a remarkable auto-steer setting, and although Musk says the cars will be technically capable of driving from “parking lot to parking lot”, the autopilot can only be used on motorways until further testing is completed. With this in mind, it looks as though Tesla aren’t far off developing a completely autonomous vehicle – if they haven’t done already.

Uber

Spotted: Uber test their Self-Driving car in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Spotted: Uber test their Self-Driving car in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the long run Uber want to replace their drivers with self-driving cars, and prototypes have been spotted in testing on the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They’ve recently set up an advanced research and technology in the city, and though it looks as though they are far behind Google in terms of miles on the road, the idea of ordering your Uber and getting dropped off at your destination – all without a driver – is pretty exciting.

The German Giants

While Audi, BMW and Daimler, the owners of Mercedes, have joined forces in purchasing Nokia’s ‘Here’ mapping service, it could be a while before they get started and catch up with the competition. None of their tech-company rivals are held back in the same way by having to develop drivable cars at the same time.

What’s next?…

It’s estimated that Self-Driving cars could be a common feature on our roads within five years, and although they are only being tested on US roads at the moment, it may not be long until we see them cross the Atlantic taking a spin on European streets. Take a look at Google’s promo video below for a look at their Self-Driving car in action…

Written by Malek Murison

Malek Murison is a freelance tech journalist working closely with clients in the drone industry.

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