InfoShot: History of the self-driving car
Wireless Technologies

InfoShot: History of the self-driving car

Driverless cars might be all the rage, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s a new technology. Much like Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, researchers have been working on prototypes for decades.

The capabilities of today’s computers mean we’re now in an era where driverless cars are becoming increasingly common. The list of companies working on the technology is massive and growing by the day. But self-driving cars have their roots back in the 1920s.

Back in 1925 radio equipment firm called Houdina Radio Control drove the Linrrican Wonder through a traffic jam in New York City and was controlled by a transmitting antennae. In the 50s and 60s, researchers experimented with laying cables in the road to guide cars via electronic signals and magnetism. And there have been countless other examples throughout the subsequent decades.

For example, ALVINN (short for Autonomous Land Vehicle In a Neural Network) was a refitted army ambulance out of Carnegie Mellon in the 80s. It reportedly had less computational power than an Apple Watch and required a 5,000-watt generator. Carnegie Mellon researchers also rode a self-driving Pontiac minivan across the United States in 1995, although breaking and accelerating was done manually.

The Eureka PROMETHEUS Project (PROgraMme for a European Traffic of Highest Efficiency and Unprecedented Safety) ran from 1987 to 1995, received almost €750 million in funding. Lead by Ernst Dickmanns, a professor at Bundeswehr University Munich and early pioneer of the technology, the project culminated in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class driving autonomously from Munich to Copenhagen.

2004 saw DARPA’s inaugural long-distance self-driving Grand Challenge. None of the 15 participants completed the 150-mile course, but five managed to complete the second event the following year.

As part of the VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge, 2010 saw autonomous Piaggio vans drive 16,000 km from Parma, Italy, to Shanghai, China. The trip took 100 days and was also involved in what might have been the first autonomous vehicle accident, albeit due to human error.

2009 saw Google start its own self-driving car, and, in 2014, Tesla first began offering its Autopilot feature (now offered to all drivers for free). Today the likes of Uber, Baidu, Delphi, and Lyft are all developing their own autonomous tech, while auto incumbents such as Ford, BMW, Volvo and more are all working towards a commercial driverless car being on the road. Possibly as soon as 2020.

01-02-17-history-of-the-self-driving-car

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech, from driverless cars , AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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