We may not be zipping around in self-driving cars just yet, but the technology for autonomous vehicles has actually come a long way in the last decade.
When DARPA hosted its first driverless car competition in 2004, the possibility of self-driving cars ever becoming a reality looked bleak.
In fact, not one of the 15 teams that qualified for the final race finished the course and after just three hours into the 10-hour competition, only four cars remained operational.
While DARPA’s first Grand Challenge competition was considered by some to be a failure, it did set in motion the whole idea of creating autonomous vehicles, and by the next Grand Challenge in 2005, five teams’ vehicles successfully finished the 132 miles course.
By 2007, which was the last year the competition was hosted, six teams finished the course.
Since then, tech companies and automobile companies alike have been chasing the dream of bringing self-driving cars to market, and they have made a lot of progress.
Google has already created a fully autonomous prototype and a slew of automakers have vowed to have self-driving vehicles by 2020.
But the autonomous and semi-autonomous cars we see today look a lot different than their predecessors. Check out the forerunners below.
The Red Team’s car made it further than any other vehicle during the 2004 competition.
- Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon, Intel, Boeing and others were behind the Red Team’s racing vehicle called the “Sandstorm.”
Although the vehicle did not finish the 150 mile course, it did travel the furthest distance at 7.4 miles.
As you can see on the vehicle, it’s sensing technology was a little less discreet than the sensors on self-driving vehicles today.
SciAutonics II Team made it the second furthest but then ran into some trouble.
The self-driving dune buggy created by the team SciAutonics II, which was backed by several Southern California Aerospace firms, went a total of 6.7 miles before getting stuck in a embankment.
Stanford’s team was the first ever to finish the course.
Stanford’s vehicle dubbed “Stanley” took first place in the 2005 Grand Challenge, finishing the 132 mile race in six hours and 54 minutes.
Stanford’s racing team worked alongside Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory to create the vehicle, which featured five LIDAR lasers, a video camera, and a GPS system.
In 2007, Carnegie Mellon worked with General Motors and Caterpillar to take first place.
By the last DARPA Challenge, which was referred to as the Urban Challenge, the technology had advanced to the point that the vehicles now had to be able to operate in an urban environment. Previously, the race took place in the Mojave Desert. But in 2007, the event was at an Air Force base in southern California.
While the course was shorter at only 60 miles, the vehicles now had to obey all traffic laws, be able to merge into traffic, and avoid other obstacles.
Carnegie Mellon’s Tartan Racing team finished the course in a little over four hours and took home the grand prize of $2 million.
Google launched its self-driving car project in 2009 and the technology became a little more seamless.
Much like the cars that competed in the DARPA Grand Challenge, Google’s cars take advantage of sensors and software to navigate the world around them. The size of the technology has just shrunken a bit.
Last December, Google unveiled its first prototype of a car designed from the ground up as a fully autonomous vehicle.
There are currently safety drivers aboard all of Google’s self-driving vehicles, but the company aims to create vehicles so safe that no human is needed.
Since its launch, Google’s self-driving cars have driven more than 1 million miles.
It’s currently testing its vehicles on public roads in Mountain View, California and Austin, Texas.
While not completely autonomous, Tesla recently rolled out Autopilot features into its newer vehicles that give it a driverless experience.
- YouTube/Patrick Ricci
Some of the semi-autonomous functions included in Tesla’s Autopilot include automatic steering, automatic lane change, side collision warning, and automatic parallel parking.
More automakers, including GM, Toyota, and BMW have plans to roll out more autonomous features in their vehicles as well.