Skip to main content

Next time you find yourself barreling down the highway, take a look at the car next to you. The guy or girl in the driver's seat might not actually be the one driving. Driverless cars aren't science fiction any more -- many of their features are already here.

Today most car manufacturers offer some kind of "intelligent driving aids" -- features like lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and blind spot detection have been available in some form for years now.

But with the introduction of Tesla Inc.'s (TSLA) autopilot on Model S and Model X vehicles starting in 2014, production cars reached Level 2 autonomy -- and the latest vehicles rolling off the Freemont, Calif. assembly line are hardware-equipped for full Level 5 driverless operation, pending software updates from Tesla. In other words, whether you realized, chances are you've probably already shared the road with cars capable of driving themselves.

It's not just high-end automakers like Tesla that are spending substantial R&D cash on driverless tech. Mainstream carmakers, tech firms and major universities are all pouring substantial resources into vehicles that can drive themselves. And, even though Level 5 driverless cars may still be a while away, the breakthroughs happening in the space in 2017 are fueling some major investment upside in the stock market right now.

To figure out how to take advantage, we're turning to the charts for a technical look at the winners and losers of the driverless car space.

Winner: Tesla Inc.

Image placeholder title

Tesla is driving autonomous and electric vehicle tech forward like no other company right now -- and shares have been charging higher as a result, up more than 73% since the calendar flipped to January. But there could be even more upside to Tesla in the months ahead.

That's because shares are currently forming an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish continuation setup that's formed by horizontal resistance up above shares at $380, with uptrending support to the downside. A breakout through that $380 price ceiling is the signal that more upside is likely ahead.

Winner: Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

Image placeholder title

According to reports this week, Tesla is working with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) to develop its own artificial intelligence chip for self-driving cars. That could potentially bode very well for AMD, particularly if it means more automakers turn to the company for similar projects.

Like Tesla, AMD is forming an ascending triangle pattern, in this case with resistance up at $15. Put simply, if shares can build enough momentum to break through $15, we've got a clear sign that buyers are in control of the price action and it makes sense to join them.

More of What's Trending on TheStreet:

Winner: NVIDIA Corp.

Image placeholder title

AMD isn't the only chipmaker that stands to benefit materially from self-driving tech; NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) is another. The firm currently provides the Drive PX 2 AI platform that powers Tesla's AP2 hardware and is being used by Toyota Motors (TM) to develop its own autonomous car products, in addition to being a major automotive chip supplier.

You don't need to be an expert trader to figure out NVIDIA's price action here -- shares have been in an uptrend for more than a year now, bouncing higher on every test of trendline support. And, put simply, as NVIDIA rides that trend higher this September, this is still a "buy the dips stock".

Nvidia is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells NVDA? Learn more now.

Loser: Ford Motor Co.

Image placeholder title

Despite making a major commitment to self-driving cars, Ford Motor Co. (F) is the loser in the battle right now -- at least as far as the price action is concerned. Ford has been stuck in a wide-ranging but well-defined downtrend since early 2016, dragged lower by sales challenges in its existing product line, while it innovates to meet its target for fully autonomous vehicles by 2021.

Ford is in make-or-break mode right now, as shares touch trendline resistance for the sixth time since last summer. If Ford's momentum fails again here, look out below.

Winner: Intel Corp.

Image placeholder title

The final name on our list of winners and losers is Intel Corp. (INTC) . The company bought its way to self-driving superiority through its pending acquisition of Mobileye for $14 billion, announced in March. Mobileye's EyeQ3 platform powered Tesla's AP1 hardware, and has been used by other automakers like GM (GM) , BMW and Volvo for other driving aids.

While Mobileye will make up a tiny part of Intel's revenue, it gives the chip giant a major role in the driverless car market.

Shares have been mostly range-bound for 2017, but Intel is on the verge of an important breakout through long-term resistance up at $37. If Intel can catch a bid above that $37 price ceiling, look for continued upside into the end of the year. Shares are within grabbing distance of that $37 line in the sand this week.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.