Robot cars: fond memories from CES ’08

GM predicted self-driving vehicles would be on the road by 2018–we’re well on the way

I’m knee deep in the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas so over the next few days I’ll be posting some retrospective–and futurespective (if that’s a word)–thoughts on the show’s past and future. With any luck, I’ll post some interesting stuff from this year’s show as well.

Today, I thought I’d start with my most memorable CES experience, which was riding in a robot car at the 2008 show. The car, a GM SUV designed by Carnegie Mellon engineers, was tricked out with GPS, ladar (also known as laser radar and LIDAR) and a host of other sensors, all of which allowed it to drive itself. The Boss, as the vehicle was known, won the 2007 DARPA urban challenge, an open race held by the Pentagon’s mad science division in an effort to spur development of robotic vehicles.

I wrote about the surreal experience in a CBC blog post. Alas, if only video had been as ubiquitous as it is today, I’d post a first-hand view of the experience, since words really can’t capture the feeling. Wired actually did so, although the video can’t be embedded–you can see what it’s like to ride in the car here.

Scientific American, on the other hand, also interviewed some of the people behind the Boss, and kindly lets one embed its content:

In a story I wrote at the time, GM representatives said fully robotic cars would be on the roads within 10 years, which is only six years away now. With Google experimenting with such vehicles and more automated features creeping into cars every year, we’re well on the way.