Actually, yes. That is my area of expertise and if they were one of our competitors we would know. They did register for AUVSI in Vegas next year and they are supposed to have a large booth and demo, but I don't think they realize how far beyond them everyone else is.
Don't get me wrong, they are on everyone's radar, but like I said, they still have a long way to go. Driving on roads with well defined rules is very different from driving off road where there are no rules and anything can happen.
Plaintiffs' lawyers look for deep corporate pockets, particularly for supersizing their lucre with punitive damage awards.
The liability threshold in product cases is relatively low: essentially they must show a "defect" was a contributing cause of the damage or injury.
With its 17" touch screen and rear facing child seats, I submit that, as a new manufacturer, Tesla will soon pay tuition to learn the intricacies of "defects."
And another reason I hate the patent system. It's been done already, many many years ago. Google Darpa Grand Challenge to see college kids using reference markers (gps coordinates) to do exactly that with autonomous vehicles. And before the Darpa Grand Challenge many other defense department companies have been doing it (General Dynamics, BAE, Lockheed Martin, Oshkosh, etc).
They appear to have patented something about the implementation with some central coordination reachable at a URL. They must be looking forward to availability of cloud services universally, maybe through 4G.
Google expects to be really big in cloud services though they are not the only ones. Google, Microsoft, and many others are betting billions on it.
It's true that autonomous vehicles and contests have been around for a while. For example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_car . DARPA is interested in something different for military vehicles.