Robocar - History - 1990s


In 1991, the United States Congress passed the ISTEA Transportation Authorization bill, which instructed USDOT to "demonstrate an automated vehicle and highway system by 1997." The Federal Highway Administration took on this task, first with a series of Precursor Systems Analsyes and then by establishing the National Automated Highway System Consortium (NAHSC). This cost-shared project was led by FHWA and General Motors, with Caltrans, Delco, Parsons Brinkerhoff, Bechtel, UC-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, and Lockheed Martin as additional partners. Extensive systems engineering work and research culminated in Demo '97 on I-15 in San Diego, California, in which about 20 automated vehicles, including cars, buses, and trucks, were demonstrated to thousands of onlookers, attracting extensive media coverage. The demonstrations involved close-headway platooning intended to operate in segregated traffic, as well as "free agent" vehicles intended to operate in mixed traffic. Other carmakers were invited to demonstrate their systems, such that Toyota and Honda also participated. While the subsequent aim was to produce a system design to aid commercialization, the program was cancelled in the late 1990s due to tightening research budgets at USDOT. Overall funding for the program was in the range of $90 million.

In 1994, the twin robot vehicles VaMP and Vita-2 of Daimler-Benz and Ernst Dickmanns of UniBwM drove more than 620 miles (1,000 km) on a Paris three-lane highway in standard heavy traffic at speeds up to 81 miles per hour (130 km/h), albeit semi-autonomously with human interventions. They demonstrated autonomous driving in free lanes, convoy driving, and lane changes with autonomous passing of other cars. That same year, Lucas Industries developed parts for a semi-autonomous car in a project that was funded by Jaguar Cars, Lucas, and the UK Department of Trade and Industry.

In 1995, Dickmanns' re-engineered autonomous S-Class Mercedes-Benz undertook a 990 miles (1,590 km) journey from Munich in Bavaria, Germany to Copenhagen, Denmark and back, using saccadic computer vision and transputers to react in real time. The robot achieved speeds exceeding 109 miles per hour (175 km/h) on the German Autobahn, with a mean time between human interventions of 5.6 miles (9.0 km), or 95% autonomous driving. It drove in traffic, executing manoeuvres to pass other cars. Despite being a research system without emphasis on long distance reliability, it drove up to 98 miles (158 km) without human intervention.

In 1995, the Carnegie Mellon University Navlab project achieved 98.2% autonomous driving on a 3,100 miles (5,000 km) cross-country journey which was dubbed "No Hands Across America". This car, however, was semi-autonomous by nature: it used neural networks to control the steering wheel, but throttle and brakes were human-controlled.

In 1996, Alberto Broggi of the University of Parma launched the ARGO Project, which worked on enabling a modified Lancia Thema to follow the normal (painted) lane marks in an unmodified highway. The culmination of the project was a journey of 1,200 miles (1,900 km) over six days on the motorways of northern Italy dubbed Mille Miglia in Automatico ("One thousand automatic miles"), with an average speed of 56 miles per hour (90 km/h). The car operated in fully automatic mode for 94% of its journey, with the longest automatic stretch being 34 miles (55 km). The vehicle had only two black-and-white low-cost video cameras on board and used stereoscopic vision algorithms to understand its environment.

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