Google lags behind General Motors for driverless car patents

Research into patents for driving technology reveals how close carmakers are to producing cars that communicate with each other, Minority Report-style Heads-Up Displays (HUDs) and driverless cars.


Despite significant media attention surrounding Google’s ambitious driverless car plans, a study into the number of technology patents filed by carmakers shows that the social media giant is lagging behind traditional automotive manufacturers.

Although Google is pouring huge investment into its car venture, and unveiled a prototype car (without a steering wheel or brakes) last year, General Motors, Toyota and Hyundai may be the first carmakers to produce a fully driverless car; a possibility based on the number of autonomous driving patents each manufacturer was granted in recent years.

American manufacturer General Motors invented more driverless technologies than any other carmaker, and more than doubled its patents during 2013, a study by Thomson Reuters titled ‘The State of Innovation in the Automotive Industry’ has found.

Other emerging technologies that were granted patents included telematics, Heads-Up Displays (the ability to project smart screens onto the dashboard or driver-facing window) and driver assistance (self parking or car override in case of hazards).


Again, General Motors was found to be well ahead of the trend with the most patents filed for telematic technology between 2009 and 2013. Interestingly, United Parcel Service, an international delivery service, featured among the list of carmakers too.

General Motors reveals driver-assistance tech at CES 2015

The number of driving assistance, which includes intelligent braking, blind spot and even pedestrian detection inventions increased amongst carmakers. But Bosch appears to be the clear leader in the field.

European companies Daimler (which makes Mercedes), BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Valeo have filed the most semi-driverless technology inventions.

Technology more likely found in Hollywood could be closer than expected

The report stated: “Harkening to the floating displays of the movie Minority Report, or the advanced information and targeting systems associated with Tony Stark’s armor in “Iron Man,” the idea of Heads-Up Displays (HUDs), and their ability to allow operators to keep their eyes forward while interacting with contextual information from the outside world, has been sought after for some time.

"These systems started with the display of vehicle information on the front windshield, but have evolved to include input from a driver’s cell phone, such as directions, and incoming phone calls that are displayed on the front window. Some systems also allow the driver to use voice commands or simple motions to interact with the system without picking up the phone.”

HUDs have had the most rapid, recent growth in patent publications. Interestingly, less traditional carmakers are investing in the technology, aside from General Motors, Toyota and Honda. Instead outsiders like Universal Displays and Johnson Controls are taking the lead in research and development.

The study was conducted using the ThomsonReuters Derwent World Patents index. Within each category of innovative driver technology, researchers analysed the total number of unique inventions issues in published patent applications as well as granted patents during 2009 and 2014.

Driverless and 3D printed cars were featured in both the renowned Detroit Motor Show and the consumer tech show CES this month. 

Image: General Motors' 2016 Buick Cascada Convertible © General Motors

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