My first robot project, a self driving car in 2005
Just reading that all new TESLA vehicles will be completely self driving and it made me think about my very first robot project. For the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge II, I was a member of Team ENSCO and we built a self driving car that drove 86 glorious miles before careening into a tree. The robot and our work on it can be seen in the video below.
You can also see some cool things on our test vehicle, my 2005 Honda Element. That weird looking thing on top is an experimental Velodyne LIDAR system. Whenever you see a self driving Google car, it usually has the modern version of this contraption spinning around on top. For two weeks we experimented with the very first prototype in existence. I was actually pulled over by the Capital Police as we drove this vehicle around Capital Hill on a test run. The officers nearly arrested me after asking me what the spinning thing on top of my car was and I foolishly responded "It's an array of 64 lasers, um wait, they aren't harmful lasers, let me explain..."
Among many interesting lessons in the project was marketing. Over the course of the project we would always spend lots of time explaining what an autonomous car was. No one understood the word autonomous yet everyone in the industry insisted on calling them autonomous. Well in the ten years since it would appear that the marketers finally got involved and had the wisdom to just call them "self driving". Which just shows you how clueless we engineers are.