In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first man-made earth satellite, Voyager I, which greatly shocked the United States. At that time, it was considered that the Pearl Harbor Incident of World War II brought the most serious security panic to the United States.

In 1958, in order to deal with the technology threat of the former Soviet Union, President Eisenhower of the United States at that time approved the establishment of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

DARPA is composed of a group of outstanding entrepreneurs and young scientists, the main members of which are almost all young people around the age of 30. Since its establishment, it has been far away from all kinds of useless bureaucracy, and has become a pure land of pursuing technological innovation under the strict national defense order system of the United States.

DARPA’s main work is to discover, improve, invest and let go, and transform it into a civilian field under the guidance of military demand, so as to strive for funds and the latest technical support.

As a quasi independent institution with special status under the Ministry of national defense, DARPA’s reporting mechanism is also very simple. At the beginning of its establishment, it was only required to report directly to the U.S. Secretary of defense, but now it is reported to the Deputy Secretary of defense in charge of research and engineering, and it is not restricted by any other departments or individuals from outside.

In addition to the most critical basic technology, what is lacking in China is patience and passion for autonomous driving

In the early days of DARPA’s establishment, its main tasks were related to the defense of the former Soviet Union, mainly focusing on the three major fields of aerospace, ballistic missile defense and nuclear test and detection.

All the purpose of DARPA research is to let the US military win the possible future military conflict.

“A series of human behavior studies are related to national defense,” wrote an internal DARPA report in the 1960s

In addition to the most critical basic technology, what is lacking in China is patience and passion for autonomous driving

DARPA has successively launched hundreds of major scientific research projects, among which the most outstanding achievements include Internet, semiconductor, personal computer operating system (Unix), global positioning system (GPS), unmanned aerial vehicle, stealth aircraft, etc.

Today we use the Internet, formerly known as “ARPANET”. “ARPA” was the abbreviation of ARPA at that time.

DARPA is not a scientific research institution in a strict sense, because it is not engaged in specific research work. It is more like a venture capital institution set up by a country, which specializes in the investment and management of some “high-risk, high-yield, forward-looking” basic scientific research.

In general, DARPA has always been able to see the forefront of strategic science and technology, focus on the theme and set up corresponding technology offices, and firmly grasp the initiative of national defense science and technology innovation. It is because of the existence of DARPA that the US defense technology level has always been in the forefront of the world’s advanced technology.

Self driving is also a wave in DARPA’s future technology wave.

The origin of self driving in the United States

In 2001, the United States was deeply involved in the war in Afghanistan. In order to accelerate the development of autopilot technology in the military field, Congress authorized DARPA to organize the grand challenge and provide the winning team with a $1 million prize.

The ultimate goal of DARPA challenge is to make a third of us vehicles driverless by 2015. Although the driverless challenge has only been held for three times, it has a profound impact on the industry.

On March 13, 2004, the first DARPA challenge was held in the Mojave desert area of the United States, but no one participated in the race to complete the route, so no winner was announced and no cash reward was given. The University of Carnegie Mellon’s sandstorm (modified Hummer) raced the farthest, completing the 11.78 km (7.32 mi) route.

In 2005, the second DARPA challenge required 175 miles of desert terrain within 10 hours, and no human intervention was allowed. Finally, five vehicles completed the 212 km (132 mile) race, and the team led by Stanford University’s Trent won the championship.

In addition to the most critical basic technology, what is lacking in China is patience and passion for autonomous driving

2005 champion vehicle, Stanford team’s “Stanley”

In 2007, the third challenge was also known as “urban challenge”. At that time, the track was 60 miles long, and the team needed to complete the race within 6 hours.

11 teams mainly represent the interests of universities and large enterprises, such as CMU and GM, Stanford and Volkswagen, Virginia Tech and torc technologies. In addition, Oshkosh trucks, Honeywell, Raytheon, Caltech, Autonomus solutions, Cornell University, and MIT are also actively participating. In the end, Carnegie Mellon University’s vehicle boss (2007 Chevrolet) won a $2 million prize.

DARPA has greatly promoted the development of driverless driving in the United States

DARPA’s three challenges established Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University in the field of autonomous driving. The self driving companies founded or joined by the scientists who participated in the competition have now grown into the well-known self driving head enterprises in the industry. Such as waymo, general purpose cruise, Aurora, Argo AI, nuro, zoox, etc.

The three unmanned challenge competition, due to its rich bonus and future technological sense of competition, attracted dozens of teams from computer programming and engineering companies, vehicle manufacturers, universities and even high schools in California, which greatly stimulated the creativity of all walks of life and accelerated the development of military automatic driving technology.

From 2004, no team completed the competition, to 2005, almost all the final teams surpassed the best results of 2004, and then to 2007, there were still teams completing the competition under more stringent rules, only three years, the rapid development of driverless technology is amazing, which is still the level of automatic driving in the United States more than 10 years ago.

In the following 10 years, the development of automatic driving in the United States has accelerated the development of the entire automatic driving industry chain, such as artificial intelligence, visual technology, deep learning, camera, computing platform, computing processor, etc., and the gap between China and the United States in terms of basic technology has further widened.

In addition to the most critical basic technology, what is lacking in China is patience and passion for autonomous driving

McKinsey predicts that it will take time for China and the world’s auto driving leaders to commercialize their technologies

Advantages of DARPA driverless challenge

DARPA has made full use of all kinds of resources through its special function, mobilized full name participation through open competition, and brought the intelligence gathering effect into full play.

Through the challenge, it has attracted a variety of institutions from various professional fields (colleges and universities are the largest participating force), expanded the scale of competition, reduced the risk of research and development, played a positive role in the development of automatic driving, and concentrated the wisdom of the whole people to promote the development of automatic driving technology.

In the challenge, participants can show their innovative technology and solutions directly. Let the solutions in different fields collide with each other to produce new sparks, which makes different technical routes merge and evolve into the optimal solution.

Secondly, DARPA uses media resources to carry out social publicity and popularize automatic driving in an all-round way, which not only improves people’s acceptance of automatic driving, but also encourages and guides capital development to pay attention to the field of automatic driving to ensure the continuous technological hematopoiesis.


The success of DARPA challenge mode has attracted worldwide attention and has been inherited and innovated.

In the national defense technology strategy of the UK, it is clearly proposed to use DARPA challenge mode for reference to promote technology development in relevant fields.

In the United States, in 2009, the Obama administration adopted the American innovation strategy, calling on the whole society to stimulate innovation in the form of rewards and challenges, and in 2010, the challenge mechanism was included in the code by voting.

Back in China, how can we develop the advantage of late development on the road of automatic driving? In addition to the most critical basic technology, at present, the lack of patience and passion for automatic driving technology is more in China.

Although the capital market is more concerned about time earnings, if the self driving enterprises also take the rapid commercialization as the starting point and ignore the continuous investment and research and development of basic technology, no matter how fierce the external publicity and market share are, no core technology will inevitably be controlled by others. The previous “ZTE” is a good example.

For automatic driving, we must consider the reality, but also have some feelings, and be ready for the marathon.

“Only open and naked competition can break through the technical barriers. Although there are many things you can do with money, you may not be able to buy things with good performance, most likely because you cannot buy people’s passion. “

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