Team Ensco Darpa Challenge 2004We may not be zipping around in self-driving cars just yet, but the technology for autonomous vehicles has actually come a long way in the last decade.

When DARPA hosted its first driverless car competition in 2004, the possibility of self-driving cars ever becoming a reality looked bleak.

In fact, not one of the 15 teams that qualified for the final race finished the course and after just three hours into the 10-hour competition, only four cars remained operational.

While DARPA’s first Grand Challenge competition was considered by some to be a failure, it did set in motion the whole idea of creating autonomous vehicles, and by the next Grand Challenge in 2005, five teams’ vehicles successfully finished the 132 miles course.

By 2007, which was the last year the competition was hosted, six teams finished the course.

Since then, tech companies and automobile companies alike have been chasing the dream of bringing self-driving cars to market, and they have made a lot of progress.

Google has already created a fully autonomous prototype and a slew of automakers have vowed to have self-driving vehicles by 2020

But the autonomous and semi-autonomous cars we see today look a lot different than their predecessors. Check out the forerunners below.

The Red Team’s car made it further than any other vehicle during the 2004 competition.

Carnegie Mellon, Intel, Boeing and others were behind the Red Team’s racing vehicle called the “Sandstorm.”

Although the vehicle did not finish the 150 mile course, it did travel the furthest distance at 7.4 miles.

As you can see on the vehicle, it’s sensing technology was a little less discreet than the sensors on self-driving vehicles today. 

SciAutonics II Team made it the second furthest but then ran into some trouble.

The self-driving dune buggy created by the team SciAutonics II, which was backed by several Southern California Aerospace firms, went a total of 6.7 miles before getting stuck in a embankment.


Stanford’s team was the first ever to finish the course.

Stanford’s vehicle dubbed “Stanley” took first place in the 2005 Grand Challenge, finishing the 132 mile race in six hours and 54 minutes. 

Stanford’s racing team worked alongside Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory to create the vehicle, which featured five LIDAR lasers, a video camera, and a GPS system.

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