It turns out Google isn’t No 1 for self-driving cars

6 Jan 2016

Despite media reports heralding Google as one of the most productive when it comes to developing self-driving car technology, it turns out it actually lags far, far behind established automakers.

When you enter self-driving car into Google, one of the top search results you’re likely to come across connects the technology with Google, and that’s not just because you’re using their search engine.

The reason is that many of the media reports on self-driving cars, both today and historically, have charted the company’s development of the little buggy car that it hopes to send out on the streets of Silicon Valley in the not-too distant future.

Similarly, many of its other neighbours and rivals in the San Francisco area have also jumped on the self-driving bandwagon with their own creations, with Apple being the most notable example.

However, according to a new report from the Intellectual Property and Science division of Thomson Reuters, which examined the number of patents filed dealing with the technology, Google ranks as low as 26th in the world.

In reality, Japanese car manufacturer Toyota is top of the pile when it comes to autonomous driving innovations by a considerable distance, according to Reuters, with German manufacturer Robert Bosch, Japanese Denso Corp, Hyundai and General Motors following from a distance.

Tech companies like to toot their own horns

The final company on this list made headlines in the last few days after announcing that it had doubled down on autonomous vehicles with a $500m deal between itself and the ride-sharing company Lyft to supply a network of self-driving cars.

In terms of numbers, Toyota has amassed 1,400 patents dealing with autonomous driving, which is more than double those of Robert Bosch, its nearest rival.

Having the most patents does not necessarily equate to the company being the most innovative, but the patents by Toyota highlighted by the report include software that would avoid the autonomous driving system being turned off mid-drive.

Principal author of the report, Tony Trippe, said the findings show that, when it comes to developing tech, the auto industry is, perhaps, a little more modest.

“Automakers aren’t as good as technology companies in tooting their own horns,” he said to Reuters. “But when you look at the patent data, the automakers are all over this.”

Highway image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic