Volvo has a goal of eliminating all injuries to passengers in its cars by 2020. That looks unlikely, but the company has 500 people developing its own self-driving technology. Right now, its Pilot Assist gives a driver 15 seconds with hands off the wheel, keeping the car in lane and managing the distance to a vehicle ahead.
The company is testing its technology with a few families in Gothenburg, Sweden. The tests will start with driver assistance technology and move up to more advanced systems over time.
The automaker, owned by China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, is developing more autonomous technology but won't be ready to go to market until 2021, according to a report from Navigant. Volvo is also working with Uber to develop autonomous systems for the XC90 SUVs.
If you're coming from behind, might as well find a partner to usher things along. Korea's Hyundai Motors will have an advanced safety system on the road this month that allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel for 15 seconds.
The company isn't ready to test truly self-driving cars, said Jinwoo Lee, vice president of Hyundai's Intelligent Safety Technology Center in Korea. To get there, Hyundai decided to work with Aurora, the technology startup that is working with VW, as well as with prolific partner Nvidia, maker of artificial intelligence computing systems.
Hyundai plans to test its autonomous system in a small city in 2021. "We take very conservative steps," Lee said in an interview. "We want to really test it and validate it." There are no current plans to test autonomous technology on public roads, and the company said it doesn't think it will be ready for market until 2025.
Most traditional automakers rushed to get a self-driving vehicle program once Waymo and Uber started working on it.
Automakers feared that low-priced self-driving taxi services would replace car ownership and that they would just supply the hardware, just as Foxconn Technology makes the phone for Apple and Apple makes the real money selling content and services.
Enter Fiat Chrysler. The automaker supplies the minivans to Waymo and helps integrate the technology, yet has little development of its own. The company has started working with Intel and BMW but will not try to establish leadership alone.
Ride-hailing giant Uber placed two huge bets on autonomous vehicles, first hiring top employees from Carnegie Robotics in 2015 and then acquiring the self-driving trucking startup Otto in 2016. But the program has been mired in controversy after a high-profile lawsuit and a then fatal collision.
Throughout 2015, Uber recruited top robotics talent from Carnegie Mellon as it built its Advanced Technologies Group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That group, led today by former Carnegie Robotics co-founder Eric Meyhofer, has spearheaded Uber's self-driving car program. In an effort to catapult Uber to the front of the autonomous-vehicle arms race, Uber acquired Otto Trucking in August 2016, buying a team filled with former employees of Alphabet's self-driving car unit.
Less than a year later, Alphabet retaliated, filing a trade secrets lawsuit against Uber. The lawsuit revealed that Anthony Levandowski, who co-founded Otto after working on Google's self-driving car, then headed Uber's driverless-car development effort, had downloaded copies of work emails and sensitive files at Google. Levandowski, along with Otto's other three co-founders, have all since left Uber. The ride-hailing company settled the lawsuit this year for $245 million in Uber equity, but not before the lawsuit distracted its leaders and placed a black mark on its autonomous program.
Then in March, bad turned to tragic when a self-driving Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. Uber quickly suspended all of its public autonomous-vehicle testing as it awaits the results of that investigation.
If Tesla CEO Elon Musk can get the world's most powerful rocket off the ground with his company SpaceX, maybe he can also get cars to drive themselves. Tesla's Model S and X both have Autopilot, which can pass other cars and change lanes with no hands on the wheel. While it's not a fully autonomous system, it has given Tesla a lot of data about how its cars perform when driver-assistance software is engaged. Tesla has been under fire lately, after another person died in an accident while using Autopilot.
Where things get murky is that Musk eschews the Lidar systems that most automakers and tech companies are using. He says he wants to develop more advanced imaging to give his cars a much better pair of eyes.
Musk wants to use cameras and develop image-recognition capabilities so cars can read signs and truly see the road ahead. He has said Tesla is taking the more difficult path, but if he can come up with a better system, he will have mastered true autonomy without the bulky and expensive hardware that sits on top of rival self-driving cars.
"They're going to have a whole bunch of expensive equipment, most of which makes the car expensive, ugly and unnecessary," Musk told analysts in February. "And I think they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage."
Analysts from BNEF project that Tesla will be able to field Level 4 cars in 2020, although that timetable could be subject to change now that the company entered into a public spat with federal safety investigators over the fatal crash involving Autopilot.
China's largest search engine has been developing self-driving software for five years. Its Apollo software system for autonomous vehicles is open-source, and the company has invited all takers to work together to test cars and collect data. Baidu started testing the first version of the software in late 2017 on public roads and showed off version 2.0 at CES in Las Vegas in January.
The Chinese government in March gave Baidu permission to test cars on 33 public roads in the suburbs of Beijing, making it first on the roads in China. The company's goal is to test the system in buses made by Chinese manufacturer King Long later this year and, by 2020, to have autonomous vehicles capable of Level 3, meaning the car controls itself at highway speeds and tells the driver to take over in complex situations. Baidu's initial self-driving cars will be developed with China's Chery.
Baidu also has a 2021 target to produce Level 4 autonomous cars in partnership with Chinese automaker BAIC Group.