Prehistory before 1980: simple self-driving vehicles
Stanford cart '61 &
Shakey, Moravec '79
1977: a vehicle of Japan's Mechanical Engineering Lab follows
roads for up to 50 m at up to 30 km/h
1980s: the legendary Ernst Dickmanns (right) and
his group at
Univ. Bundeswehr Munich (UniBW)
build the world's first real robot cars, using saccadic vision,
approaches such as Kalman filters, and parallel computers
Right: exterior and interior of some of the UniBW cars (up to 96 km/h on empty streets)
1987-1995: almost $1 billion
for the pan-European Prometheus project,
the largest robot car project ever (with UniBW and many others)
1994: Autonomous vision-based VaMP robot of Dickmanns @
UniBW drives in Paris
traffic, tracking up to 12 other cars simultaneously
The "VAmP" Mercedes 500 SEL drives more
than 1000 km on the Paris multi-lane ring,
up to 130 km/h, automatically passing slower cars in the left lane
1990s: Kanade, Thorpe (CMU);
neural nets learn to steer (Pomerleau)
1995:"no hands across America" (CMU). Throttle and brakes need
human control though
UniBW Munich's fast Mercedes robot does 1000 autonomous miles on the highway - in traffic - no GPS!
Dickmanns' famous S-class car autonomously drives 1678 km on public Autobahns from
Munich to Denmark and back, up to 158 km without
human intervention, at up to 180 km/h, automatically passing other cars
robot car so far
2005: DARPA "grand challenge"
(limited to US teams):
no traffic, dirt roads, driven by GPS:
course predefined by 2935 GPS points (up to 4 GPS points per street curve).
Obstacle types known in advance
Top: Five cars (max speed 40 km/h) complete a 211 km desert course: 1. Volkswagen of Stanford (6h 54min), 2. Hummer of CMU (2.5% slower), 3. CMU's 2nd Hummer (5% slower) ...
European Land Robot Trials (ELROB): demos of autonomous offroad vehicles
New robot car demos and challenges by
2007 saw see the Civilian "European Land Robot Trials" and the
DARPA "Urban Grand Challenge" won by the GM car "Boss" of CMU.
Since 2000 many drivers have become used to
guidance from onboard devices that combine detailed street maps
and the satellite-based global positioning system (GPS).
Some robot cars use essentially the same GPS-based techniques,
plus some sort of pattern recognition for tracking other cars,
recognizing trees, boulders and shadows, and identifying traffic signs, etc.
What will the future bring?
In 2005 computers
were roughly 1000 times
faster per dollar than
those of Dickmanns' era,
and the next decade will bring another factor of 1000 or so.
Such hardware advances are the main reason
for progress in robot control - software advances seem less
crucial as the basic algorithms
for pattern recognition and probabilistic reasoning
have not changed fundamentally in the past
decade, except for epsilon improvements here and there.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, many representatives of leading car
companies such as BMW and DaimlerChrysler (the company with
the world's largest private research budget: $6.7 billion as of 2005)
are not all too enthusiastic about self-driving vehicles. Why not?
Because they feel that completely autonomous cars do not
necessarily fit the self-image of their customer base.
Hence their present research focuses on more modest
topics such as driver assistance.
Even absent a large market for commercial
self-driving cars, autonomous vehicles may
still find significant military applications - compare
the work of the US Army Research Lab (since the mid 1990s),
General Dynamics Robotic Systems,
and NIST (system architecture by J. Albus & team).
Fibonacci web design
by J. Schmidhuber, 2005 (last update 2011). Below:
Schmidhuber praising the achievements of Dickmanns
during his AGI-09 keynote, 2009.
AGI 2011 keynote by robot car pioneer Dickmanns himself: