For years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — the U.S. government’s lab credited with the invention of the internet and drone technologies — was looking to develop self-driving vehicles to deploy in war zones.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the military stepped up the urgency, as the U.S. was losing soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq because of explosive devices planted under the roads.
Now, DARPA was charged with developing the robot vehicles that could travel those roads to deliver supplies and conduct reconnaissance missions without risking precious human lives.
Unfortunately, the agency found the problem too difficult for their engineers and the military contractors of the time. They didn’t have the expertise because no one had done it before.
So DARPA director Tony Tether came up with a new approach: DARPA would launch a challenge, a series of races, for robot cars.