Photos: The amazing prototypes in the race to build self-driving cars

A look at some of the companies and cars paving the way for an autononomous vehicle revolution.
By Danny Palmer, Senior Writer
1 of 17 BMW


Talk about driverless cars and it sounds like a futuristic technology. However, that future may be arriving sooner than you think. Today exist a wide variety of concepts and designs for autonomous vehicles, ranging from those which look like your average car, to some which resemble blocky abomination from sci-fi dystopia.

BMW is looking to stand out from the crowd with its driverless car offering, if the German's Next 100 is anything to go by. It shows that, even though the car is driverless, you can still travel in style.

2 of 17 Google


Google first revealed plans to develop driverless vehicles in 2012. The company's fleet of prototypes has logged over one million miles on public roads, making use of sensors and inbuilt mapping technology to avoid obstacles and get from A to B safely.

Although the cars have since have been involved in their first accident, the tech giant argues that autonomous vehicles are safer and will ultimately allow us to save money on vehicles and infrastructure.

Uber driverless car
3 of 17 Uber


Ride-sharing company Uber doesn't own any vehicles: when you're getting a lift with Uber, it's in the driver's car, not the company's.

That might change in future as Uber has teamed up with Ford to test self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, home of the company's Advanced Technologies Center. Uber has touted the environmental, safety, and traffic benefits of self-driving cars.

4 of 17 Volvo


Volvo is very much looking to place itself as a global leader in driverless vehicles. The auto manufacturer is already testing autonomous vehicles in its native Sweden and has revealed plans to expand the scheme to the UK in London as well as in China. The idea is by testing the driverless vehicles on real roads in different environments across the globe, Volvo can quickly gain a true picture of what needs to be done to ensure that autonomous vehicles can be deployed anywhere.

5 of 17 General Motors

General Motors

General Motors is the largest auto manufacturer in the US, so it isn't a surprise that the firm is looking to enter the driverless vehicle market. But rather than go it alone, GM has made a $1 billion deal with San Francisco based ride-sharing service Lyft. The partnership aims to to build a network of autonomous vehicles to make getting around more "affordable, accessible, and enjoyable".

6 of 17 Toyota


Toyota hadn't said much about autonomous vehicles until late last year, when all of a sudden the Japanese headquartered firm entered the driverless car race with a bang, announcing it would establish the Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley to advance its AI and robotics research.

Toyota, which includes Lexus, has remained secretive about its research and development, but is reported to have 1,400 self-driving car patents, a figure twice that of any other company in the sector. The firm is testing its Highway Teammate driverless concept car in Tokyo, Japan and has promised driverless cars on the roads by 2020.

7 of 17 Rich Riggins/Feature Photo Service for IBM


As one of the largest technology corporations on the globe, it's no surprise that Big Blue is making a play in the driverless car business -- especially given how the artificial intelligence required for autonomous vehicles lines up with IBM Watson's cognitive computing research.

Those Watson APIs are now being used in Olli, an electric vehicle by Arizona based manufacturer Local Motors. Olli can carry up to 12 passengers and uses Speech to Text, Natural Language Classifier, Entity Extraction, and Text to Speech to respond to commands. Olli learns from data produced by over 30 sensors across the vehicle to meet passenger needs and preferences.

8 of 17 Hyundai Motor UK Ltd


The South Korean Hyundai Motor Group, incorporating Hyundai and Kia, plans to invest almost $10 billion dollars over the next five years into driverless cars, with the ambition of puttinh "highly autonomous" vehicle technology on the roads by 2020, and then fully autonomous following suit by 2030. Like other manufacturers, they say driverless cars will make the roads safer for motorists.

9 of 17 Mercedes-Benz Cars


If the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle is anything to go by, the German manufacture sees autonomous vehicles as an opportunity for opulence wherein occupants can feel as if they're at a private retreat.

Core to the theme of the F 015 research car is exchange of information between vehicle, passenger,s and the outside world, with passengers carrying out tasks with touchscreens and gestures.

"Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society," says Dr Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. "The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space."

10 of 17 Nissan


Nissan is betting on cloud to be the driving force behind its own autonomous offering, the Nissan Lead, a fully electric vehicle. In this model, the cloud could help with everything from taking in new data to enabling features such as allowing customers to trigger the heat or air conditioning remotely.

Nissan's cloud-based backend is also designed to allow Leaf to take advantage of new technologies more quickly in the future -- so maybe there will be a time where you'll be updating your car from the cloud.

11 of 17 Ford


Back in the 1920s, The Ford Model T revolutionised the auto industry, bringing affordable vehicles to the masses for the first time. Now, almost a century later, Ford believes its cars can change the world again, leading the autonomous vehicle revolution. The company is testing its Fusion Hybrids across the US and believes they'll be ready for full deployment onto road networks within five years.

12 of 17 Rolls-Royce


The luxury nature of Rolls-Royce might make you think that a driverless vehicle programme isn't on the company's agenda, but the British auto icon is keen to demonstrate that it too has a place in an autonomous future.

Rolls-Royce has recently unveiled its VISION NEXT 100, a 19-foot-long, zero emissions vehicle which represents the company's first foray into autonomous cars that cater to "the potential demands and desires of the wealthy connoisseur of the future".

"With the Rolls-Royce VISION NEXT 100, we were mindful not to dwell on the past. We wanted to be as innovative as possible and at the same time transcend the design history of the marque," says Giles Taylor, director of design at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

13 of 17 Daimler AG - Global Communications Commercial Vehicles


It isn't just driverless cars which represent the future of motoring -- German manufacturer Daimler is developing an autonomous 18-wheeled truck which it already has permission to test on the country's autobahns.

The move is part of Daimler's plan to bring autonomous driving technology to the freight and logistics business within the next ten years, and the company is keen to bring it to the roads as soon as possible.

"This truck provides compelling answers to the challenges that our customers will be facing in the future," says Wolfgang Bernhard, Daimler board member for trucks and buses.

14 of 17 Daimler AG

Mercedes-Benz Future Bus

Self-driving cars could help reduce traffic - but wouldn't traffic be further reduced with the use of public transportation? Mercedes-Benz believe public transport could be key to the driverless revolution which is why they've introduced the Future Bus City Pilot.

The bus uses cameras and sensors to navigate urban traffic and has already successfully made a 20 km trial run in The Netherlands on a journey which involved stopping for pedestrians, tunnels, junctions and sharp corners.

15 of 17 Supplied

Domino's Pizza

And you thought driverless vehicles were only for people getting from point A to point B. Domino's Pizza has plans for an autonomous wheeled robot which wil deliver pizza.

Dru, the mini-driverless vehicle with pizza box-sized compartments, has been designed for the pizza giant with help from Australian startup Marathon Robotics. The robot has already successfully made deliveries in Brisbane.

16 of 17 Tesla


Tesla has long been the darling of the future of motoring -- and while the American electric automotive company hasn't explicitly set out plans for a driverless car, CEO Elon Musk has strongly hinted that the Tesla Model 3 sedan could be equipped with an option of autonomous driving.

When recently questioned about the Model 3 being fully autonomous, Musk replied that there will be another big event "maybe toward the end of the year" -- adding Tesla will do the "obvious thing".

17 of 17 Apple


While Elon Musk has remained cagey about Tesla's own autonomous vehicle ambitions, he's spoken very openly about what he believes to be Apple's.

The tech giant hasn't given any official word that it's looking to add cars to its ecosystem, but Musk says it's a given that the iPhone maker has an electric vehicle plan and that it's an "open secret" that Apple has at least 600 engineers working on the secretive 'Project Titan'.

A number of Tesla employees have apparently been hired by Apple to work on a special project; Musk has previously labelled Apple as the "Tesla graveyard" as a result.

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