M.R. O’Connor in Undark:
Deep in the Mojave Desert, 60 miles from the city of Barstow, is the Slash X Ranch Cafe, a former ranch where dirt bike riders and ATV adventurers can drink beer and eat burgers with fellow daredevils speeding across the desert. Displayed on a wall alongside trucker caps and taxidermy is a plaque that memorializes the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, a 142-mile race whose starting point was at Slash X Ranch Cafe.
It was the first race in the world without human drivers. Instead, it featured the fever-dream inventions — robotic motorcycles, monster Humvees — of a handful of software engineers who were hellbent on creating fully autonomous vehicles and winning the million-dollar prize offered by the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
In “Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car,” journalist Alex Davies mines court documents and interviews the original participants of the DARPA race to chronicle the heady early days of autonomous vehicle technology and its subsequent evolution into a billion-dollar race between corporate behemoths like Google, Uber, and Detroit automakers to be the first to put autonomous vehicles on the nation’s roads.