The transportation industry is undergoing an unprecedented revolution as researchers in the field expect the adoption of autonomous vehicles (AV) in a not-too-distant future. Even though there is no fully automated vehicle on the road currently, several features of driver’s assistance (e.g., lane departure warning, rear cameras, blind-spot warning) are integrated into most of the recent vehicles. It is therefore fundamental for industry leaders and policymakers to comprehend the state-of-the-art of AV innovation. The main purpose of this study is to assess the current status of AV innovations in the U.S. market. My analysis, based on more than 2,000 patents retrieved from the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) PatentsView database, has five main findings.

First, there is a significant increase in autonomous vehicle patents approved by USPTO since 2010. Between 2010 to 2018, the number of patents increased by about 18 folds from 27 to 516.

Secondly, in terms of AV innovators, the new entrant high-tech companies are taking over the incumbent automakers in the AV technologies. Third, industries involved in AV innovation have unequal levels of development in different technology sectors and fields. High-tech companies are leading in smart environment technologies. The incumbent automakers had an established predominance in the vehicle platform technologies. Fourth, of all the patents approved by the USPTO, about two-thirds are held by US companies, and one third held by foreign companies primarily from Asia and Europe.

Fifth, in the US, California is the epicenter of AV innovation with nearly 40 percent of US patents. Michigan holds 18 percent of the total, given the presence of traditional automobile manufacturers including Ford and GM.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Automated vehicles--Technological innovations--United States; Automated vehicles--United States--Patents

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Science, Technology and Public Policy (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Public Policy (CLA)


Sandra Rothenberg

Advisor/Committee Member

Qing Miao

Advisor/Committee Member

Franz Foltz


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes