Evolution of Self-Driving Cars

Evolution of Self-Driving Cars has undergone a lot of notable milestones starting all the way from decades ago till today.  Before Tech Giants such as Google(Waymo), Tesla or Volvo started investing their brightest minds, time and money in revolutionizing Transport System by developing Self-Driving Cars, there were other notable and successful attempts at developing Self-Driving Cars, as early as in the 80’s. Find below some of the most noteworthy Autonomous Vehicles in the evolution of Self-Driving Cars


evolution of self-driving cars

The 1986 Navlab 1 undergoing a trial run

Navlab came up with its first Semi-Autonomous Vehicle, the Navlab 1 in 1986, which was built in the then Chevrolet Panel Van. It was built on the concepts of Robot Navigation, Image Understanding and Human Interaction with Computers. Most of its computing devices are hosted on board the van itself making it Self-Contained. Hence it required no, or very less Remote Interactions or controls ruling out infrastructural Issues arising from Communication failure associated with Remote Controllability. Manual override functionalities were also built to enable human control in terms of emergencies. Navlab also went on building Autonomous and Semi-Autonomous Vehicles on different models of the then available cars. Also, most of the models were vans, to accommodate the Researchers and Computing Machinery required for Autonomous Navigation.

No Hands Across America (1995)

evolution of self-driving cars

Navlab 5 – No Hands Across America

‘No Hands Across America’, a was trip from Pittsburgh to SanDiego. This journey marks a milestone in the evolution of autonomous navigation since the vehicle drove 98.2% of the total trip distance on its own. The vehicle on which the Autonomous Navigation was set up was Pontiac Trans Sport Minivan. The ride was headed by the CMU Robotics Institute Scientist Dean Pomerleau and Todd Pocheum. The car was run by a system titled RALPH (Rapidly Adapting Lateral Position Handler). The van had the ability to analyze the paths ahead of it and steer accordingly, all by its own.

Autonomous Crushers (2000)

evolution of self-driving cars

Crusher in an Off-Road Terrain

The CMU Center for Robotics then introduced the Autonomous Navigating Crushers for Off-Road Terrains.  The Crushers employed a set of Sensors, Computers, and Actuators for navigation purposes. The Sensors were used to analyze the terrain features, the computing systems analyzed these features and based on this analysis and provided the actuators with inputs that eventually drove the Crusher. The Autonomous Crusher system successfully completed 250 Kilometers in 2007 at the Ft. Bliss in Texas. Here is a video of the Crusher in action

DARPA Grand Urban Challenge (2007)

evolution of self-driving cars

DARPA Urban Challenge

DARPA has been a major driver in the Autonomous Technology by making the first entry in  Un-Manned Vehicle Technology by bringing in one of the first Un-Manned Aircraft. Dr. Tony Tether and his ARPA team headed the DARPA Urban Challenge. The Urban Challenge involved driving Autonomous Vehicles through designed map courses in the urban setting of California. This required the robotic vehicles to abide by the California Traffic Rules in different traffic scenarios throughout the course. The main objective of the DARPA Grand Urban Challenge was to make the brightest minds around the world to work on and come up with inventions that could add a lot of solid bricks to the developing Autonomous Vehicle Navigation Technologies. The Challenge offered hefty prize money to the winners and invited people from almost all streams such as Students, Tech Organization and other Tech Companies.

CMU Self-Mining Trucks

evolution of self-driving cars

A Cat Haul Truck

CMU also found Mining Activities as a good Niche for Autonomous Navigation. Hence, along with Caterpillar, they deployed Autonomous Navigation into Mining Trucks. By 2010,  CAT had the first Demonstration of Autonomous Trucks in Mining.

The CAT 793 Haul Trucks being built now are capable of carrying up to 250 Tonnes and are being configured to work completely by itself by analyzing the environment and acting as needed. They can maneuver through Mining Sites, dealing with the traffic, from the point of loading to the dumping sites and back with no Human Intervention. The idea was to automate the entire Haul Cycle – it can drive and park near the loader. Once loaded with the required material, horns are honked and then it drives over to the dump site.

Tech Giants Kick In

As time went by, Google, Tesla, Uber, Mercedes, and other Automobile Giants started moving into developing Autonomous Navigation Technologies of their own. Google currently has many Self-Driving cars undergoing Trials with the combined support of the local people in the streets of Arizona. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet is expected to release Autonomous Taxi Services  by next year

Evolution of self-driving cars

Though Uber deployed an automated car, in the light of the recent accident that occurred with the uber, the future of autonomous driving cars for uber is currently blurred. Tesla and other Automobile Industries are coming up with their own versions of Self-Driving Cars.

Evolution of Self-Driving Cars has been happening since the past 30 years or older. Considering the fact that we are in an age of Technological Disruption and advancements in the Self-Driving Sector, we can expect to see Driverless Cars hovering down our lanes pretty soon.

Interested in Self-Driving cars? – Check out articles on Self-Driving Cars