Tesla’s Full Self Driving beta program, General Motors’ Ultra Cruise, and various competing systems make autonomous driving seem closer than ever to being common on public roads. The Trucks Venture Capital’s weekly Future of Transportation newsletter recently highlighted the video above of the 1986 NavLab 1 from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). While crude by modern standards, this was one of the earliest steps toward our autonomous future.
NavLab kicked off in 1984, things started understandably slow, according to a recap of the project from the university. The first step was the Terregator, which was a six-wheeled, unmanned buggy that was capable of driving itself but at speeds that weren’t much quicker than a person walking.
The NavLab 1 in the video above took what the scientists learned and applied it to an actual vehicle. The big Chevy van used cameras and LIDAR to monitor the road. Inside the vehicle, there were racks of computers for processing all of this information.
In concept, the NavLab 1 has commonalities with the autonomous systems that are under development today. Cameras and LIDAR are still tools for a vehicle to sense its surroundings. The major difference is that developers no longer need a van full of computers to implement this tech. All of this equipment can now fit into a normal passenger vehicle.
CMU researchers continued to develop NavLab 1, and you can see the progress in the video above. This version used mapping to learn about the roads in a given area and remember them. At this point, the van is also able to move a bit faster. The developers even trusted it enough to avoid a human obstacle. The vehicle’s speed on the road appeared to be faster, too.
The NavLab project continued beyond this van. By 1995, the NavLab 5 was based on a Pontiac Trans Sport and was able to cover over 6,000 miles of autonomous driving.
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