Tesla is apparently far ahead of the curve, at least if CEO Elon Musk is to be believed. He recently said that the company will put out self-driving vehicles in 2017. If they do it, they'll be the first to hit the market.
They're not just talking about a car with auto-pilot that assists the driver. They already make that. It can help the car brake when needed and stay in the lane. What Musk is claiming is that his car could start on the Atlantic coast and drive all the way across the country without a person ever touching the wheel, only stopping when it reached the Pacific.
Other companies are working on this technology. In China, a car company called Baidu think they can have one out by 2019. Here in the United States, Ford believes it can do it by 2021. If Musk and Tesla can really hit their timetable, they'll have years in the market before anyone else.
This, of course, does raise some questions with consumers. How reliable will the cars be? At some point, a self-driving car is going to get in an accident. When that happens, who is going to be liable? If there's no one in the car, is Tesla itself liable? If there is a person, but he or she trusted the vehicle and wasn't driving, can the driver then claim to be innocent in the accident?
It will be very important to keep an eye on this technology, not just because of how it could change the auto industry, but because of the way that Tesla's vehicles could set legal precedents.
Source: Wired, "Tesla’s Self-Driving Car Plan Seems Insane, But It Just Might Work," Jack Stewart, Oct. 24, 2016