His­tory of Au­ton­o­mous Technology

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C. 1500 LEONARDO DA VINCI’S ROBOTIC CART

Leonardo da Vinci de­signed a wooden, spring-pow­ered, three-wheeled cart that could move without be­ing pushed or pulled, and steer­ing could be set in ad­vance so the cart could move along a pre­de­ter­mined path.

1868 WHITE­HEAD TOR­PEDO

The White­head Tor­pedo was a game-changer, be­ing able to pro­pel it­self un­der­wa­ter, travel sev­eral hun­dred me­ters, and main­tain depth. Tor­pedo guid­ance has evolved over the years lead­ing to a wide range of au­ton­o­mous de­vices.

1933 ME­CHAN­I­CAL MIKE AIR­PLANE AU­TOPI­LOT

Me­chan­i­cal Mike was a pro­to­type au­topi­lot that was used dur­ing a 21,000 KM flight around the world in 1933. Gy­ro­scopes kept track of the plane’s head­ing and in­ter­faced with the con­trols to en­sure ac­cu­rate di­rec­tion.

1945 TEETOR CRUISE CONTROL

Ralph Teetor, a blind in­ven­tor and me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, fed up with his driv­ers’ spo­radic driv­ing, in­vented a “speed control de­vice” known to­day as cruise control.

1961 STAN­FORD CART

James Adams, a Stan­ford en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ate stu­dent, be­gan de­vel­op­ing the world’s first self-driv­ing ve­hi­cle. Known as The Cart, it was even­tu­ally equipped with cam­eras and pro­grammed to de­tect and au­tonomously fol­low a solid white line on the ground.

1977 TSUKABA ME­CHAN­I­CAL EN­GI­NEER­ING

Tsukuba Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing Lab in Ja­pan cre­ates the first au­ton­o­mous, in­tel­li­gent, ve­hi­cle. It tracked white street mark­ers and achieved speeds up to 30 kilo­me­ters per hour.

Vamors – CARS THAT SEE 1986

Vamors, orig­i­nated from Ger­man en­gi­neer, Ernst Dick­manns, was a 5 tonne Mercedes van equipped with cam­eras and other sen­sors, mod­i­fied with all the nec­es­sary con­trols — steer­ing wheel, brakes and throt­tle. Vamors made its first au­ton­o­mous drive in 1986.

1995 GEN­ERAL ATOMICS PREDA­TOR DRONE

Gen­eral Atomics’ un­manned Preda­tor drone, which has been self-pi­lot­ing for over 20 years. Most drones are decked out with var­i­ous tech­nolo­gies that have now been adapted to cars. Th­ese in­clude radars and ther­mal imag­ing cam­eras that en­able travel by night.

2013-2004 DARPA CHAL­LENGES

DARPA, the U.S. De­part­ment of De­fense’s re­search arm, spon­sored a se­ries of chal­lenges that push au­ton­o­mous tech­nolo­gies for­ward. Com­pe­ti­tions were held to chal­lenge ve­hi­cles to self-nav­i­gate pre-de­ter­mined dis­tances in an al­lot­ted time limit.

2010 GOOGLE HITS THE ROAD

The Google Driver­less Car pro­gram is led by Darpa Grand Chal­lenge alum Se­bas­tian Thrum. Google’s fleet of seven au­ton­o­mous Toy­ota Prius hy­brids use data from Google Street View cou­pled with data from cam­eras, LIDAR and radar to de­ter­mine the car’s po­si­tion on a map.

2015 TESLA AU­TOPI­LOT

Tesla sent its cars a soft­ware up­date that sud­denly made au­ton­o­mous driv­ing a re­al­ity. The au­topi­lot fea­ture en­abled hands-free control for high­way driv­ing.

2015 UNIVER­SITY OF MICHI­GAN’S MCITY

The Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s -32acre Mo­bil­ity Trans­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, called Mcity, launched as a world-class test fa­cil­ity for au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle technology. Ford be­came the first au­tomaker to test au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles there, and in the harsh­est en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions imag­in­able.

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