When the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Grand Challenge autonomous vehicle race debuted in 2004, the results bordered on comedy. None of the vehicles drove more than 7.4 miles. Some ran in dizzy circles. Others stalled atop rocks. A robotic motorcycle journeyed all of two feet before toppling over. A 10-ton commercial truck lumbered forward a few yards and stopped like a confused buffalo, overwhelmed by the multitude of sensor signals zipping past its small brain.
Their technical struggles didn't last long. Nineteen months later, five vehicles finished the 132-mile second Grand Challenge. In 2007, six more completed DARPA's 60-mile Urban Grand Challenge.
Today the work continues. Google's automated cars have logged more than 140,000 miles. General Motors has predicted that self-driving vehicles will be ready by the end of this decade.
Click the image below to see our slideshow of the evolution of autonomous vehicles over the past seven years.
Stanford University's "Stanley" won the 2005 Grand Challenge by finishing in six hours, 53 minutes. The Volkswagen Touareg R5 combined six laser range finders with a color camera, radar system, GPS system, and inertial navigation system.
Photo courtesy of Stanford University
For Further Reading
To keep up with our Chevy Volt coverage, go to Drive for Innovation and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. On his trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is driving a Volt across America to interview engineers.
I'm a bit confused by the further reading links provided. While all-electric cars are admirable, I'm not quite sure how they are related to self-driving cars. Stanley is a diesel-powered Volkswagen, while the Google self-driving cars are based on the hybrid Toyota Prius, the same platform used for their fleet of Google Street-view cars. I'm all for innovation and I am hesitant to disparage any engineering lab, but I find it difficult to believe that the self-driving car revolution will be led by General Motors. I've read GM's press releases but I haven't seen GM take the technology lead in the past. Please set me straight if I'm way off base.
While it's one thing to see these crazy vehicles as part of DARPA development projects, it's quite another to think of an autonomous car like the one Google is working on fighting New City cab drivers for right of way, crawling through the traffic jams in San Francisco, or cruising (hopefully not careening off) over the Golden Gate bridge.
As one that doesn't even trust the rear-view camera for backing out or parallel parking, I'm not sure I could leave the driving to the car--no matter how much onboard intelligence you pack on.