If this year's CES is any indication, 2016 will be the year that autonomous vehicles finally take off in a big way.
The technology powering these vehicles has been around for a while, and gained a lot of press in 2015 with the help of companies like Tesla and Google. Now some automotive titans have joined the race as well, signaling a sea change in the amount of resources being invested in the technology.
At the 2016 CES in Las Vegas, three major automakers formally announced their forays into autonomous vehicles. Let's take a look at those announcements, and what they may mean for the future of the automotive market.
On January 4, opening day at CES, Volvo announced a partnership with Ericsson to develop intelligent, HD media streaming for self-driving vehicles. The idea is that, once autonomous vehicles become mainstream, riders will be able to watch their favorite TV shows without interruption while being driven to their destination. By learning the regular routes of the rider, the platform will be able to select content that can be viewed within that timeframe.
The Swedish manufacturer announced that they had a "production-ready" autonomous vehicle back in early 2015, with plans to begin a driving trial in 2017. Volvo's autonomous car project is called Concept 26. The company is also known for its transport vehicles, such as semi trucks—a market that is poised to benefit heavily from autonomy.
General Motors will be teaming up with ride-sharing giant Lyft to build a fleet of driverless cars. The partnership was sealed with a $500 million investment from GM in Lyft, signaling a long-term play for both companies.
Some of the cars will be available for hire, and the pair is also working together on a network of car rental stations in the US. The partnership puts Lyft in a better competitive state against rival Uber, which has been developing its own autonomous technology. Also, this isn't GM's first step into the field, as the company announced plans for self-driving versions of its Chevy Volt last October.
Ford was the last to make its announcement on its plans for autonomous vehicles, taking the stage at CES on Tuesday, January 5. While it was originally rumored that the company would announce a partnership with Google, the company did not announce any such partnership. However, Ford officials did mention an Amazon partnership.
Still, the company is on track to grow its investment in autonomous technology. At the CES keynote, Ford said it would be tripling its fleet of self-driving cars, eventually totaling 30 units. The company also noted that it was working on level 4 automated driving currently and is working on level 5 for the future. More information on vehicle autonomy levels can be found here.
Toyota announced at CES this year that it would be adopting Ford's open source SmartDeviceLink (SDL) platform for connecting mobile apps in the car. In a sense, SDL is similar to Android Auto or Apple's CarPlay in that it allows users to engage with mobile apps through voice commands or their existing car interface.
Additionally, Toyota Research Institute's Gill Pratt spoke on the need for greater reliability in autonomous automobile systems to guarantee the safety of its occupants. The Japanese automaker debuted its own autonomous vehicle back at the 2013 CES.
While it didn't have a flashy new self-driving car to show off at CES, Nissan did announce, in partnership with Renault, that it will have 10 vehicle models with autonomous capabilities on the road by 2020. The first step will be a feature called single-lane control that will make its debut in 2016.
Then, in 2018, the company will roll out multi-lane control before deploying technology to handle intersections and more. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn announced the company's plans for autonomous vehicles in April 2015, and they follow the same projected timeline.
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is Enterprise Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.