And we're off to the races! Nissan put all other major car companies on edge on Tuesday when the company announced its self-driving cars would hit the market by 2020. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that Nissan's executive vice president Andy Palmer announced the Japanese automaker going full steam ahead with self-driving cars during a presentation for the press in Southern California on Tuesday afternoon.

"Nissan Motor Co. pledges that we will be ready to bring multiple affordable, energy efficient, fully autonomous-driving vehicles to the market by 2020," Palmer told the assembled group of reporters. Nissan executives said they would build a state-of-the-art "proving ground" in Japan by 2014 to make sure its self-driving cars are safe in the city, on the highway, or anywhere else before before the newfangled vehicles hit the market. CNBC adds that Nissan will use its in-house engineers with some help from research teams at Stanford, MIT, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Tokyo to build the new cars. 

That puts on notice everyone else in the auto industry who'd contemplated self-driving cars, but hadn't gotten very far with them just yet. Curiously, last week, Google announced it would forge ahead with plans to make a self-driving car after it couldn't find a major car company to partner with. This has to sting, coming as it does only five days later, no?

Meanwhile, Toyota and Audi both unveiled preliminary systems for self-driving cars at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Both could drive without a human pilot in certain situations, but they weren't quite ready for the open road just yet. 

So, Nissan has laid down a challenge, both to itself and to its competitors. Let's see if it can rise to the occasion — and who will follow in its footsteps.

[Pictured: a Nissan that still requires a filthy, imperfect human pilot.]