The first viable self-driving cars are just starting to hit the road, but the technology has been in the works for longer than you might imagine. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have been testing self-driving cars since the early 1980s, according to Motherboard.
Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon’s Navlab were developing autonomous vehicle technology with the hopes that it could be used for a wide variety of applications not necessarily limited to ferrying around commuters. Their 1983 autonomous vehicle, called the Terragator, was designed to operate on rugged terrain and looked kind of like a refrigerator on tractor wheels. The researchers hoped similar technology could be used for underwater exploration, hazardous waste mapping, and research on other planets.
In 1986, however, they debuted a self-driving vehicle that will look a little more familiar—a van. It couldn’t drive very fast, but it did drive, analyzing the environment with video and laser sensors to keep it on the road. It contained its own computing power, so it didn’t have to be controlled from afar and risk connection issues. But, being 1986, it couldn’t have been any smaller than a full-sized van. It had to house several different desktop computers, plus controllers and internal sensors. Inside, it’s basically a mobile computer lab.
Teaser image by MARCEL ANTONISSE/AFP/Getty Images