Tesla’s full self-driving beta program, General Motors’ Ultra Cruise, and various competing systems make autonomous driving closer to being common on public roads. Tracks Venture Capital’s weekly Future of Transportation newsletter recently highlighted the video above 1986 NavLab 1 from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Although unrefined by modern standards, it was one of the first steps towards an autonomous future.
With the launch of NavLab in 1984, things started at a remarkably slow pace, according to a brief description of the university project. The first step was the Terrigator, a six-wheeled, unmanned bogie capable of driving on its own but at speeds that were no faster than a person’s walking.
In the video above, NavLab 1 scientists have taken what they have learned and applied it to a real car. The large Chevy van used cameras and LIDARs to monitor the road. Inside the car, there was a computer rack for processing all this information.
Conceptually, NavLab 1 has similarities to autonomous systems that are under development today. The camera and LIDAR are still a means of understanding the surroundings of a car. The main difference is that the developers no longer need a full computer van to implement this technology. All of this equipment can now fit into a typical passenger car.
CMU researchers continue to develop NavLab 1 and you can see the progress in the video above. This version uses mapping to learn about and remember the roads in a particular area At the moment, the van is also able to move a bit faster. Even the developers believed it was enough to avoid human interference. The speed of cars on the road also seemed to be fast.
The NavLab project continues beyond this van. By 1995, the NavLab 5 was based on a Pontiac trans sport and was able to cover more than 6,000 miles of autonomous driving.