by Tom Carroll
The idea of robot cars has been around for many decades and, in fact, “automatic
mobility” vehicles were envisioned from the very first automobile, though total
autonomy as we know it today was not possible at the time. There have been many
unique robotic developments that have been employed in various personal
transportation devices. Science fiction movies and TV productions have long used robot
cars in their sets, and most depictions are a bit off in their technology. The cartoon
series, The Jetsons, showed George and family zipping about in some sort of flying car
with nobody at the controls. i-Robot depicted Will Smith’s policeman character zipping
down streets and through tunnels under total automatic control in his Audi of the
future (shown in Figure 1). This concept car later became the more realistic Audi R8.
For the average person, autonomous cars are just a vision of the future though BMW, VW, Mercedes, and
many other luxury car brands now offer optional robotic
features. The robot ‘Johnny Cab’ from the 1990 movie
Total Recall is one autonomous personal vehicle that most
people remember. Figure 2 shows Arnold Schwarzenegger
riding in back of the wayward robot cab. These thoughts
of autonomy are not new. In the 1980s, Mercedes Benz
built the world’s first robot car, together with the team
of Professor Ernst Dickmanns at Bundeswehr Universität
FIGURE 1. The i-Robot Audi concept car.
in Munich, Germany.
DARPA is the True Winner
of the Grand Challenges
Quite a few of us have followed the recent Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenges
the past few years that have demonstrated the epitome
of robotic technology as applied to cars. DARPA certainly
had its own best interests in mind when it envisioned
FIGURE 2. The Johnny Cab from the film Total Recall.
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