ANL 10.41 Decreased By ▼ -0.09 (-0.86%)
ASC 9.01 Decreased By ▼ -0.18 (-1.96%)
ASL 11.07 Decreased By ▼ -0.06 (-0.54%)
AVN 76.90 Increased By ▲ 0.55 (0.72%)
BOP 5.44 No Change ▼ 0.00 (0%)
CNERGY 5.25 Decreased By ▼ -0.02 (-0.38%)
FFL 6.60 Increased By ▲ 0.03 (0.46%)
FNEL 5.85 Decreased By ▼ -0.05 (-0.85%)
GGGL 10.96 Decreased By ▼ -0.12 (-1.08%)
GGL 16.48 Increased By ▲ 0.04 (0.24%)
GTECH 8.63 Increased By ▲ 0.11 (1.29%)
HUMNL 6.82 Decreased By ▼ -0.07 (-1.02%)
KEL 2.86 Decreased By ▼ -0.04 (-1.38%)
KOSM 3.19 Decreased By ▼ -0.01 (-0.31%)
MLCF 25.69 Decreased By ▼ -1.22 (-4.53%)
PACE 2.95 Decreased By ▼ -0.05 (-1.67%)
PIBTL 5.95 Increased By ▲ 0.04 (0.68%)
PRL 17.21 Increased By ▲ 0.32 (1.89%)
PTC 6.97 No Change ▼ 0.00 (0%)
SILK 1.23 Increased By ▲ 0.06 (5.13%)
SNGP 36.41 Increased By ▲ 0.11 (0.3%)
TELE 10.73 Increased By ▲ 0.14 (1.32%)
TPL 9.03 Decreased By ▼ -0.10 (-1.1%)
TPLP 19.70 Decreased By ▼ -0.21 (-1.05%)
TREET 28.60 No Change ▼ 0.00 (0%)
TRG 76.25 Decreased By ▼ -0.05 (-0.07%)
UNITY 19.88 Increased By ▲ 0.03 (0.15%)
WAVES 12.80 Increased By ▲ 0.14 (1.11%)
WTL 1.37 Increased By ▲ 0.01 (0.74%)
YOUW 5.00 Decreased By ▼ -0.07 (-1.38%)
BR100 4,057 Decreased By -34.6 (-0.85%)
BR30 14,907 Decreased By -45.7 (-0.31%)
KSE100 41,103 Decreased By -245.6 (-0.59%)
KSE30 15,635 Decreased By -101.8 (-0.65%)
Technology

The road not taken: South Korea's self-driving professor

  • But Han's invention could have paved the way for South Korea to dominate the industry, he added regretfully.
02 Apr, 2021

YONGIN: Decades before the race to build a self-driving car became a multi-billion-dollar contest between tech giants such as Tesla and Google, a South Korean professor built an autonomous vehicle and test-drove it across the country -- only for his research to be consigned to the scrapheap.

Han Min-hong, now 79, successfully tested his self-driving car on the roads of Seoul in 1993 -- a decade before Elon Musk even founded Tesla.

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

Footage from the period shows the car barrelling down a highway, with no one behind the wheel. A 386-chip-powered desktop computer, complete with monitor and keyboard, is placed on the passenger seat. Han is sitting in the back, waving at the camera.

"It felt extraordinary," said the affable inventor.

"The workload was very heavy," but he and his team "had an enormous passion as it was something others hadn't done yet, something that hadn't come out in the world yet".

At the time, South Korea was more focused on heavy industry, such as steel and shipbuilding, with the average Korean not yet familiar with cellphones.

The country was yet to become the tech powerhouse it is today, and was still pursuing imitation rather than innovation. On one occasion, Han was told: "Why develop a new technology when you can always pay for it?"

Han's projects were seen as dangerous. He was once asked how much he was paying for his life insurance, he said, and whether his wife was aware of "these crazy activities of yours?"

But Han was so convinced of his cars' safety that he rarely wore a seat belt -- and has never had life insurance.

Even so, unable to see much investment potential, the government eventually cut funding to his research at Korea University.

Now, Musk's electric car firm is a $600-billion behemoth, while Han's Chumdancha is a small company in Yongin, south of Seoul, where he and one other employee still develop specialist warning systems for autonomous vehicles.

Musk is a "tremendous and outstanding" person, Han said. "He came up with his own, firm vision based on what others were doing, and that is really incredible."

But Han's invention could have paved the way for South Korea to dominate the industry, he added regretfully.

Raj Rajkumar, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, who reviewed the 1990s footage for AFP, said it "appears to be on par with some of the best work on autonomous vehicles during that period".

"The professor and a colleague are not even in the driver's seat -- very bold, confident but very risky thing to do," he added.

"It is unfortunate that funding for that project was cut. In hindsight, that was certainly not a wise decision."

Comments

Comments are closed.