A long time earlier than the race to construct a self-driving automobile turned a multi-billion-dollar contest between tech giants similar to Tesla and Google, a South Korean professor constructed an autonomous automobile and test-drove it throughout the nation — just for his analysis to be consigned to the scrapheap.

Han Min-hong, now 79, efficiently examined his self-driving automobile on the roads of Seoul in 1993 — a decade earlier than Tesla was even based.

Two years later, it drove 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the capital to the southern port of Busan, on probably the most heavily-travelled expressway in South Korea.

Footage from the interval reveals the automobile barrelling down a freeway, with nobody behind the wheel. A 386-chip-powered desktop pc, full with monitor and keyboard, is positioned on the passenger seat. Han is sitting within the again, waving on the digital camera.

“It felt extraordinary,” stated the affable inventor.

“The workload was very heavy,” however he and his group “had an infinite ardour because it was one thing others hadn’t achieved but, one thing that hadn’t come out on the earth but”.

Han's project back in the 1990s was considered dangerous by many.
Han’s mission again within the Nineteen Nineties was thought of harmful by many. (AFP)

On the time, South Korea was extra targeted on heavy business, similar to metal and shipbuilding, with the common Korean not but acquainted with cellphones.

The nation was but to turn out to be the tech powerhouse it’s at this time, and was nonetheless pursuing imitation quite than innovation. On one event, Han was instructed: “Why develop a brand new expertise when you may at all times pay for it?”

Han’s tasks have been seen as harmful. He was as soon as requested how a lot he was paying for his life insurance coverage, he stated, and whether or not his spouse was conscious of “these loopy actions of yours?”

However Han was so satisfied of his automobiles’ security that he hardly ever wore a seat belt — and has by no means had life insurance coverage.

Even so, unable to see a lot funding potential, the federal government ultimately minimize funding to his analysis at Korea College.

Now, Elon Musk’s electrical automobile agency Tesla is a $600-billion behemoth, whereas Han’s Chumdancha is a small firm in Yongin, south of Seoul, the place he and one different worker nonetheless develop specialist warning methods for autonomous autos.

Musk is a “large and excellent” particular person, Han stated. “He got here up together with his personal, agency imaginative and prescient based mostly on what others have been doing, and that’s actually unimaginable.”

However Han’s invention might have paved the way in which for South Korea to dominate the business, he added regretfully.

Raj Rajkumar, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon College’s Robotics Institute, who reviewed the Nineteen Nineties footage for AFP, stated it “seems to be on par with among the greatest work on autonomous autos throughout that interval”.

“The professor and a colleague will not be even within the driver’s seat — very daring, assured however very dangerous factor to do,” he added.

“It’s unlucky that funding for that mission was minimize. In hindsight, that was definitely not a smart determination.”

– Musk problem –

Korea College describes Han as “a pioneer and hero within the world area of synthetic intelligence”, who is thought for growing the South’s first automotive navigation system and a mini-helicopter seen as a precursor to modern-day drones, in addition to his autonomous automobile work.

He’s seen within the South as a genius forward of his time — the Nineteen Nineties footage has been considered greater than 1.5 million occasions because it was posted to YouTube in February.

Self-driving autos are a serious technological battleground for at this time’s automakers, with expertise giants like Google father or mother Alphabet spending billions of {dollars} in a market that’s purported to gasoline automobile gross sales.

Tesla stated final 12 months it was “very shut” to reaching Degree 5 autonomous driving expertise — which signifies primarily whole autonomy.

However Han insists the American agency’s present choices are successfully similar to his Nineteen Nineties work.

“As Tesla is considered the perfect automobile on the earth, if there’s a probability, I wish to examine our expertise to theirs.”

He advised a problem on the Bugak Skyway, a twisting, slim street that runs over a mountain in northern Seoul.

“After all Tesla’s invested some huge cash in testing, so it may be a lot better relating to sophistication,” he instructed AFP. “However there should not be a lot distinction when it comes right down to primary performance.”

Even so, Han believes there are limits to what self-driving expertise can obtain, and that true autonomy is past attain.

Neural networks wouldn’t have the pliability of people when confronted with a novel scenario that isn’t of their programming, he stated, predicting that self-driving autos will largely be used to move items quite than individuals.

“Computer systems and people will not be the identical,” he added.

This story has been revealed from a wire company feed with out modifications to the textual content. Solely the headline has been modified.