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In 1961, engineers at a California university built what would become the first autonomous vehicle.
The vehicle1 was a cart operated using a computer program written so it could drive itself through cluttered spaces. It was powered by a car battery, and featured a camera to help steer the cart in the right direction. But the cart only moved one meter every 10 to 15 minutes to pause for image processing, and when an obstacle arose and it had to make an immediate decision, it often didn’t respond quickly enough.
In 1979, 3-D mapping and navigation2 technology made it possible for the vehicle to travel across a room, maneuvering around chairs and other obstacles throughout its route. The journey took almost five hours to complete.
While not fit by any means for modern roadways — then or now — this early version of a driverless car helped set the stage3 for the future innovations in road transportation. Fast forward five decades, and the possibility of a fully autonomous vehicle on the road could soon become a reality. New vehicles on the road already leverage some autonomous features, such as adaptive cruise control4 and automatic parking. Some automakers say fully autonomous vehicles could be on the road within the next decade5 — and that’s thanks in large part to today’s technology.
With edge computing, machine learning and IoT sensors, the autonomous vehicle of the future will be able to move at standard speeds and make decisions in seconds rather than minutes or hours.