Back to the future: S. Korean self-driving technology from the 1990s
Updated: 2021-05-10 07:02:11 KST
Under the hood of this ordinary, 20 year-old car is self-driving technology developed in the early 1990s.
Retired engineering professor Han Min-hong and his team at Korea University were building such vehicles a decade before Tesla was even founded.
"Current laws prevent it from being used on the road, but over a decade ago, this tiny red car traveled from Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do Province to Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do Province with absolutely nobody in the driver's seat. Just Han sitting behind."
Separate motors control the brakes, gas pedal and steering wheel while cameras and sensors do the job of human eyes all masterminded by computers underneath the passenger seat.
An earlier car he tweaked, an SUV, traveled 300 kilometers from Seoul to Busan in 1993
"I don't believe Tesla has technology that I don't. And no longer do I think I have technology that Tesla doesn't. The self-driving playing field has become level now, standardized."
Even with global tech giants now dominating the scene, Han says self-driving is no longer a matter of core technology, but rather who has the more sophisticated sensors
So with a bit of prep, he believes he can compete with the best, even challenging Elon Musk to a test drive through Jongro-gu District.
"Tesla and me, one on one. I say it's worth a try. Give me two to three months. Two months will be enough."
Han often wonders what could have been, had Korea embraced his innovative project.
At the time, the atmosphere in Korea was, 'Why develop self-driving technology, when ordinary cars are selling fine?' Society didn't feel the need to nurture it."
From his small office in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do Province, the 79-year-old now researches how autonomous vehicles can be used to improve daily life.
He says guaranteeing human safety remains an unsolved task and that for now, self-driving should focus on parcel delivery inside apartment complexes, maritime logistics and smart farms.
The pioneer hopes, though, that down the road, that task can be solved by the next generation of Korean engineers.
Han Seong-woo, Arirang News.