The Latest in Self-Driving Car Technology

There’s no question that driving can be a fun, relaxing activity. Unfortunately, though, its’ more often a chore. If you commute to work on a regular basis or make weekly trips to the supermarket, you know the headaches involved in dealing with other drivers and commute times during which you have to keep your attention on the road.

Self-driving cars offer a different future. And while these vehicles have long been a focal point of sci-fi films, you may not realize how close to that future we really are. With multiple manufacturers currently testing self-driving cars on the road, it’s no longer a question of “if,” but of “when.”

Tesla: On the Road Right Now

Electric car manufacturer Tesla is primed to be a game changer in the automobile industry. Its cars require no gasoline or oil, give off no emissions, and get new features via wireless updates. And for Tesla owners, one of those updates in 2015 was a doozy: overnight, their cars gained the ability to drive by themselves.

While the autonomous mode is meant to be used mostly for lane-changing assistance and parking, many drivers have taken it upon themselves to let the car do the work, with videos popping up on YouTube of Tesla owners having their cars perform commutes almost completely unattended. This is despite Tesla’s insistence that drivers always keep their hands on the wheel. In early 2016, there were multiple incidents of crashes attributed to the self-driving mode, and in June, the first death caused by a self-driving car occurred.

Google: Working on a More Autonomous Car

From the start, Tesla has warned its customers to keep their hands on the wheel. Their cars’ autopilot feature have always been meant to assist the driver rather than take over completely. On the other hand, Google’s cars are built with a different intention entirely: to completely take away the need for a driver at all.

Google’s self-driving cars, with their compact, bulbous shape, might look a little silly, but they’re serious business. They’ve driven a million and a half miles of road in California, Texas, Washington, and Arizona, and with only a few minor accidents – most of those caused by the driver and not the car. Data mined from the test drives helps the cars learn how to perform better in the future, so while it might be some time before Google releases these cars for consumer purchase, you know they’ll be good when they hit the market.

Other Manufacturers: Catching Up

While Google and Tesla are leading the self-driving industry at the moment, they aren’t the only manufacturers with chips in the game. Big names, such as Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Toyota, and GM, have plans to research autonomous cars for release in the future. It’s not just the car manufacturers who are looking to get in on the ground floor, as tech companies like Microsoft and NVidia are looking to find a way into this growing market.

With so many companies looking to compete in this area, the race to get the best self-driving car on the road isn’t some science fiction fantasy – it’s already begun. Without a doubt, legislation will have to act quickly to keep up with the advances in technology, but what’s less clear is how society will react and change because of it. No matter what happens, it’s going to be an interesting future, whether or not you’re behind the wheel.

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