It looked more like a Winnebago than a robot and had a brain and eyes less powerful than a modern cell phone, but the hulking Autonomous Land Vehicle (ALV) helped pave the way for today's autonomous ground robots.
Lockheed Martin brought together some ALV program participants to celebrate its 25th anniversary on Tuesday night, including Clint Kelly, the former director of strategic computing for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) who began the program with the company then known as Martin Marietta and a host of other contributors, including the US Army, universities and others.
The program was a crash course in route mapping and following for everyone involved, but was successful despite being a bit pokey and having electronics that needed to be packed in dry ice to keep them from overheating.
"A lot of the seeds of where we are today reside with the ALV program," Kelly said. It was the first use of a laser scanner for autonomous navigation, the first use of high-performance parallel architecture, high performance back in those days," Kelly said. "Almost everything around today, orders of magnitude better than what we had, originated with the ALV program."