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AI Transportation

Back To the Future: Autonomous Driving In 1995 53

First time accepted submitter stowie writes This autonomous Pontiac Trans Sport minivan that drove 3,000 miles was built over about a four-month time frame for under $20,000. "We had one computer, the equivalent of a 486DX2 (look that one up), a 640x480 color camera, a GPS receiver, and a fiber-optic gyro. It's funny to think that we didn't use the GPS for position, but rather to determine speed. In those days, GPS Selective Availability was still on, meaning you couldn't get high-accuracy positioning cheaply. And if you could, there were no maps to use it with! But, GPS speed was better than nothing, and it meant we didn't have to wire anything to the car hardware, so we used it."
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Back To the Future: Autonomous Driving In 1995

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  • I had a 486DX2 for a while. The 486 ran at 33Mhz and came in SX and DX versions (the DX's had floating-point coprocessors). The DX2 ran at double the speed (66Mhz) and so did a mean job of running Fractint. You could expect to see them running something like MS-DOS 5 or 6, and maybe Windows 3.1.

    I think they were about a generation after the Turbo Button fad (the ones I saw usually toggled 8/33Mhz or so).

    • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2015 @10:47AM (#49422507) Journal

      The original 486DX was released in 1989 and ran at 20mhz. It included a FPU, previously an add-on coprocessor on x86 chips.

      Then, the 486SX was released, which disabled the FPU and was offered at speeds as slow as 16mhz.

      The 486DX topped out at 50mhz, but then on-chip clock doubling was offered as the 486DX2, raising speeds up to 66mhz. Then clock tripling, finishing up at 100mhz with the 486DX4.

      Earlier boxes had turbo buttons because they could shift back into a nominally PC/PC/XT compatible 4.77mhz (in the case of 8088/8086 boxes) or PC/AT compatible 6 or 8mhz (in the case of 286/386 boxes). It actually had a good reason - many early games were highly dependent on the system's clock speed.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I realize you're quite likely a programmer and therefore neither an engineer or a scientist, but the symbol is MHz.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Actually the last machine I had with a turbo button was the DX4-100, if you turned off the turbo it ran at 66 MHz I think. It was totally pointless, no software assumed it ran at that speed. If they still had an XT/AT compatibility button that would actually have been useful, as it were I think it was just for marketing because people expected a "turbo" mode.

        • Actually the last machine I had with a turbo button was the DX4-100, if you turned off the turbo it ran at 66 MHz I think. It was totally pointless, no software assumed it ran at that speed. If they still had an XT/AT compatibility button that would actually have been useful, as it were I think it was just for marketing because people expected a "turbo" mode.

          My Gateway 2000 P-75 (Pentium 75 MHz) had a "Turbo" button (http://www.vintagecomputer.net/browse_thread.cfm?id=433)

        • by HBI ( 604924 )

          I had a DX-66 with the same switch. I just left it on at all times. I honestly rarely used the switch, even on my XT compatible. Most of the uses by 1987 (which was when I got it) revolved around BASICA, of all things, and I didn't have that, since it was a clone and had GW-BASIC which had a subset of the timing issues of BASICA.

      • Earlier boxes had turbo buttons because they could shift back into a nominally PC/PC/XT compatible 4.77mhz (in the case of 8088/8086 boxes) or PC/AT compatible 6 or 8mhz (in the case of 286/386 boxes). It actually had a good reason - many early games were highly dependent on the system's clock speed.

        Yes. I remember playing a flight simulator game on my 386 that did assume that you were on a PC/AT for timing. As the game didn't have a "fast forward" mode to cut down on the long flights to/from missions/target the turbo button actually came in handy. However, since that meant that everything went faster you had to be really light on the stick in "turbo" mode or you would end up in a smoking hole in the ground.

        In my minds eye the game play was military simulatior grade and graphics was near picture perfec

        • by HBI ( 604924 )

          I have similar memories of F-15 Strike Eagle II which was 320x200 in 16 or 256 colors (if you had VGA). Looked great back then - today we'd laugh at it and call it an amorphous blob. Flying those missions against the Soviets or Iran was a load of fun.

    • I think the point was that they could have made autonomous driving cares for 20 years.

      However... I expect there are a bunch of other factors.
      1. 3,000 miles isn't really a lot of miles, over a 4 month time frame. I expect it was only tested in ideal conditions.
      2. Software quality in 1995 was horrible! Not just with microsoft windows. But with Unix systems as well, these systems were touting 99% uptime. So that is a 1% failure rate... or 3.65 failures per year.
      3. Lack of interests. We were in SUV height.

    • I ran Linux on one in my dorm room. At the same time we had several at work running Windows 95 and later Windows 98.

      I think maybe we did have one that ran Dos + Win3.1 but it was the exception.

      Ahh... those were good days. PCs were still very expensive but I had access to cheap parts and coud undercut just about anybody's price. There is nothing like a thick steel "built like a tank" AT era-case with an only slightly out of date motherboard and hard drives just big enough to hold what you really need inside

    • It was because some programs (usually games) expected a certain CPU speed and did their timing based on it. Anything faster and things became messy.

    • The 486DX2 was unquestionably the most famous chip of its era.

      Some other notes:

      The DX ran at multiple speeds, there was a 50MHz DX which was much faster than a DX2 for some things since it had a 50MHz external bus instead of 33MHz like the DX2/66. It was too pricey though. The DX4 (really 3x) ended that argument anyway and Pentium was also quick on the scene.

      The turbo button craze started with the 286, where it would often toggle 8/16 MHz. It indeed was huge in the 386 days.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      bah, I have a 486DX2 motherboard on my desk at work right now, trying to decide if I wanna fiddle with it or not

    • My curiosity is pairing a 486 with a GPS receiver. The GPS likely had a faster proc than a 486.

      • I doubt it. I've played with GPS units from that era. They are slow compared to what you have now, taking several minutes to lock-on, and then you really only get coordinates and an altitude. The units now would blow a 486 away, but back then it's not like you'd be able to put something like a 486 in a handheld unit and expect it to work very long. Even so, the battery life was not terribly good anyway.

        Interestingly, almost all units from then are paperweights now due to an absolute brilliant design dec

    • From my memory: 486 sx 33 mhz 486 dx 66 mhz (prime doom machine) 486 dx2 - 80 mhz, There may have been a few overclocked to a whopping 100 MHz I have a vague recollection of the dx2 having some processor cache memory management advantages as well but not sure
  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2015 @10:46AM (#49422493)

    the equivalent of a 486DX2 (look that one up)...

    If they wanted the minivan to go faster, they just hit the PC's "turbo" button.

    • I know someone who used to have one of those, the "turbo" button wouldn't have helped at all...

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2015 @10:53AM (#49422537) Homepage
    Ah the halcyon days of autonomous vehicles in 1995; i remember them well. Myself? I owned a self-driving Chevrolet caprice that could automatically shift from park by deleting a piece of transmission. Once it performed this feat it could transport itself directly into a parking lot bollard. My friend even owned a prototype Ford Taurus that could gracefully enter reverse and slide down a hillside into the waiting embrace of a large mailbox and come to rest in a fast food parking lot. At the time you might imagine most drivers were shocked by such amazing mechanics and computing prowess and of course this meant constant explanation. Most witnesses had a tough time comprehending such wildly futuristic transportation, and honestly my biggest complaint was trying to explain such an exotic feature to police who seemed absolutely incapable of understanding.
    • Most witnesses had a tough time comprehending such wildly futuristic transportation, and honestly my biggest complaint was trying to explain such an exotic feature to police who seemed absolutely incapable of understanding.

      That's unfortunate, because that has been a standard feature of GM and Ford vehicles since the 1970s. You'd think it would be better-known by now...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If only cars came with a device.... some sort of brake... for parking that could relieve the pressure on the transmission when the car was parked.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That's ridiculous. I don't want to break my car!

    • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

      Methinks google et al likely keep shtum when they have 'mishaps'.

  • "...the insight which is still proprietary..."

    Yup.. there's a failure of the patent system right there.

    • by awtbfb ( 586638 )
      Actually, the tech was licensed to a company which is now part of a major auto supplier. It is hard to say whether the exact tech is being used in that supplier's current product line but it was certainly the basis for the earlier versions of the product.
  • equivalent of a 486DX2

    Really? You couldn't just give the actual CPU? [cmu.edu]

    All high level application computing is done on a Sparc LX class portable computer manufactured by RDI Computer Corporation. See Figure 2. Key components of this computer are a 50MHz MicroSparc CPU, 32 MB's of RAM, 970 MB's of hard disk space, and a 1024x768 active matrix LCD display. (For comparison, this processor is about equivalent to a 486DX2/66 using Spec ratings as a guide.) The laptop contains an optional Peripheral Expansion Unit

  • From the description in the article, they built a fairly basic (by today's standards) camera-driven lane following system. It's an impressive achievement, given the highly limited hardware and early state of the research, but it sounds like a far cry from what we would call autonomous driving today,

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