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The path to the place the automotive world is now—embroiled in breathless discussions about a new technology that everyone in the world needs to prepare for right now—actually began in another industry's yard.

Self-driving cars didn’t spring from any automotive minds, as some might expect, but rather, from a military yearning for battlefield efficiency. It began, for all intents and purposes, with the DARPA Grand Challenge, a 150-mile desert race announced by the Pentagon’s military-technology R&D agency in 2002 and executed in 2004. 

Not a single vehicle finished that first race, but in the same event a year later, five did. That staggering leap forward in autonomous-driving capability in just one year—in an off-road race, no less—showed how fast this technology has moved. It also shows exactly where the seeds for our current infatuation were sown. That is, not at Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, or Audi—but rather at Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, NC State, Ohio State, and a slew of other schools and technology firms populated with robotics engineers and software geniuses all gravitating toward Silicon Valley, to be snapped up by Google, Apple, Uber, and others. To the extent that there was an auto-industry presence in the original Grand Challenges, it was as primarily in providing the mules for these brainiacs to install their hardware and software.



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Who Decided The World Wanted Self Driving Cars?

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