How One Race Ignited the Self-Driving Car Movement a Decade Ago

Defense Department's 'Urban Challenge' marked a watershed moment in auto history.

November 13, 2017 10:00 am

Ten years ago, self-driving cars seemed like something from a sci-fi movie set in the distant future. But some people knew better, namely those watching robots wander around an abandoned Air Force base in Los Angeles. The robots drove through intersections, merged into traffic, found parking spots, and more, reports Wired

This was the Urban Challenge, which was the third and final competition for autonomous vehicles. It was hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). There was a $1 million prize for whoever built a self-driving car that would drive 142 miles through the Mojave Desert the fastest. In 2004, every vehicle crashed, failed, or caught fire, reports Wired. But what was successful was the community of young people who were convinced that driverless cars were possible, and by the end of the Urban Challenge, “that community had made them a reality,” reports Wired. 

Watch the video above to learn how we got from there to today.

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