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Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are a disruptor poised to impact the transportation industry in major and unforeseen ways. For the fleet manager looking to stay ahead of the curve, it’s important to track who’s who in the AV space. Here are six forerunners in AV technology you should know about, from major players to nimble startups.

The Top Three: Putting a Face to the Driverless Industry

These three companies are the ones you’ll hear a lot about in the coming AV wave. With strong financial backing, they are the most likely to release consumer-ready autonomous vehicles within the next 10 years.

1. Waymo

Founded in 2009 as a subsidiary of Google, Waymo’s vehicles have driven over 10 million miles, making them by far number one in miles driven. The company has focused on testing in the U.S., with miles driven in six states and 25 cities, including the challenging San Francisco Bay Area. What makes Waymo unique is that they build all of their autonomous sensing hardware in-house, significantly reducing costs. With its first commercial autonomous taxi service set to launch very soon, Waymo is one to watch.

2. General Motors (GM)

The Big Three automakers (Ford, GM and Chrysler) have been staples in the automotive industry since the beginning, and they have not been sleeping when it comes to AV technology. With a massive amount of financial backing (over $1 billion), GM stands out as the leader amongst the Big Three. Unlike Waymo, GM constructs its own vehicles for autonomous testing, and currently uses the electric Chevy Bolt as its platform. Smart acquisitions of tech companies have also helped GM quickly develop their own sensor technology and rise to the top. Fleet managers should keep a close eye on GM’s planned autonomous taxi service in 2019.

3. Baidu

Number three on the list is not one you would necessarily expect, but it is nonetheless a big player in the AV revolution. Baidu is the Chinese equivalent of Google and, like their American counterpart, has invested heavily in AV development. Unlike American companies, however, Baidu is focusing mostly on autonomous mini-buses and has plans to launch a commercial bus service in both China and Japan. With success in China and abroad, Baidu is close on the heels of its American competition and not one to forget.

Operating Behind the Scenes: Three AV Startups

While the major players like Waymo are receiving most of the public’s attention, a whole host of AV startups are slipping under the radar while remaining firmly on the map. These three young companies are pushing the envelope with their driverless designs.

1. Zoox

Most of the companies leading the AV charge are retrofitting existing vehicles with autonomous technology. Zoox, a small startup founded in 2014, is taking a different approach. Their AV is designed entirely in-house and is not really a car in the traditional sense of the word. Zoox’s prototype driverless vehicle is fully electric and bidirectional, meaning it can maneuver at right angles, without actually turning. The vehicle is also not even equipped with a steering wheel; instead, two facing benches provide space for humans. With strong financial backing, Zoox is not one to ignore. They aim to have a driverless ride-hailing service up and running sometime in 2020.

2. Nuro

This startup is working on an autonomous vehicle with big implications for the package delivery industry. Founded by two ex-Google engineers in 2016, Nuro is working towards an autonomous solution for last mile and local delivery services. Their vision is a small, driverless pod called the R1. The pod does not have room for a human occupant; instead, it is comprised of compartments that can be filled with goods for delivery to homes. Like Zoox, Nuro is breaking new ground and building their AV from scratch. A recent partnership with Kroger to offer autonomous grocery delivery means we will probably be seeing their vehicles on the road soon.

3. EasyMile

Silicon Valley is not the only hotspot for AV startups; this next company comes out of Europe and is also making waves in the AV space. EasyMile was founded in 2014 and has recently partnered with some big players in the European automotive industry. The company takes a more practical approach to AVs and is focusing development on a driverless minibus, called the EZ10, which can carry up to 15 people and is suited specifically to last-mile transportation. The EZ10 has already been deployed in 20 countries across Asia, North America and Europe.

Whether a large, well-funded and very public company, or an agile startup keeping a low profile, these are six companies that fleet managers and transit agencies should be following. DDS is committed to helping your agency prepare for the driverless future.

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Image: Waymo