• Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. recently launched a test fleet of self-driving cars in Phoenix
  • Uber Technologies has spent about $2.5 billion on its self-driving car technology over the past five years
  • GM plans to develop the driverless Chevy Bolt electric car

Electric vehicle maker Tesla has long promised it would introduce a fully self-driving automobile – but such an unveiling has repeatedly been postponed.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently declared that Tesla's full self-driving car – based on the company's Autopilot system -- will be introduced soon.

"You'll see what it's like,” he said. “It's amazing. It's clearly going to work."

Musk has frequently claimed his company has all the necessary hardware to develop self-driving cars, but lack the proper software. He has also vowed that Tesla will eventually have a moderately priced self-driving vehicle.

"I think probably about three years from now we are confident we can make a very compelling $25,000 electric vehicle that's also fully autonomous," Musk said.

While driverless vehicle technology has existed for several years, no company has yet conducted a large-scale release of such cars. Among other things, computers still have to figure out how these vehicles can deal with pedestrians, cyclists and heavy traffic (of other cars with human drivers).

But Tesla is only one of several companies seeking to develop a driverless car. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. (GOOG), the parent of Google, recently launched a test fleet of self-driving cars in Phoenix, Ariz.

Waymo has been testing driverless vehicles since 2017 – though always with a “safety driver” (a live human) on board. But now Waymo has decided to remove the safety driver and monitor the vehicle remotely.

“In the near term, 100% of our rides will be fully driverless,” said Waymo CEO John Krafcik.

Other companies are at various stages of development. Ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies (UBER) has spent about $2.5 billion on its self-driving car technology over the past five years.

But Uber has faced struggles in this ongoing endeavor.

In 2017, Anthony Levandowski, an Uber engineer was fired after he swiped proprietary data and trade secrets from Google’s self-driving vehicle project. The following year, one of Uber’s self-driving cars killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., during a test drive.

General Motors (GM), one of the “traditional” automakers that Tesla has surpassed not only in market value, but also in the public imagination, has move into green technology and plans to develop the driverless Chevy Bolt electric car.

GM’s unit GM Cruise has received approval from the California Department of Motor vehicles to operate a fleet of Chevy Bolt EVs without a human backup driver in San Francisco.

“We’re not the first company to receive this permit, but we’re going to be the first to put it to use on the streets of a major U.S. city,” GM Cruise CEO Dan Ammann boasted. “This is our moonshot.”

Across the Atlantic, Germany’s Ministry of Transport is preparing to legalize self-driving cars and allow them to operate on city streets.

In early September, no less a prominent figure than Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany should take a “pioneering” role in driverless technology and that Germany should become the “first country in the world to permit driverless vehicles in regular operation.”

Germany has preliminary plans to place driverless cars on the road in 2022.

Abishur Prakash, a geopolitical futurist based in Toronto, told International Business Times, he thinks driverless vehicles have arrived.

“The era of self-driving vehicles has already begun,” he said. “In Australia, a mining company is using self-driving trucks to move around resources.”

Beijing has launched a self-driving taxi fleet, he added.

But Prakash cautioned that with self-driving vehicles, comes immense opportunities and challenges.

“On one hand, productivity and commerce will be exponentially increased,” he said. “But, on the other hand, there are major challenges. The biggest is the loss of jobs. For example, in the U.S., millions of trucking jobs could disappear over the next decade. This could lead to social unrest and radical politics.”

Without proper strategy, he added, governments will be caught off guard as robots replace jobs and millions are put out of work – thereby creating a ripple effect across society.