With the explosion of innovation involving autonomous cars, the auto industry has become a tangled web of traditional automakers, technology giants, and focused start-ups, each approaching the self-driving car differently. 

On one end of the spectrum, conventional auto manufacturers such as General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F) are embracing incremental rollouts of the technology as they wait for the public to warm to the idea of self-driving cars. 

On the other end, major Silicon Valley firms are taking an all-in approach. Google's parent company, Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG), is developing top-to-bottom software for full autonomy, and the likes of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Uber are purportedly developing their own cars in secrecy -- each with business models that could either complement or disrupt Big Auto in the long run. For example, we could see ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber building or leasing their own fleets of 24/7 autonomous chauffeurs, whose near-constant utilization rates would allow for much more accessible and affordable rides than currently available, potentially reducing the need for car ownership. GM has already staked a claim in this area, having recently invested $500 million in Lyft.

In between, we see companies such as Mobileye (NYSE:MBLY) and NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) partnering with Big Auto to develop off-the-shelf solutions and components to expedite the process.

And then there are the independents. George Hotz, a 26-year-old prodigy that claims his technology and startup, Comma.ai, can beat everyone to the best driverless cars. Comma.ai also recently secured $3.1 million in funding from top venture capital firm Andressen Horrowitz, and it poached a senior engineer from Tesla.

The road ahead for for the autonomous car is long and winding. With so many players taking different paths, we're just beginning to see the potentially vast number of business models and applications this technology will foster. One thing we can be certain of is that the result will be world-changing. 

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Armun Asgari has no position in any stocks mentioned. Rex Moore owns shares of Alphabet (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (C shares), Apple, Ford, Nvidia, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.