The Original “Driverless Car”

The Original “Driverless Car”


Autonomous cars are all the rage for automakers now. Companies are spending a lot of money on the research and development all towards making the human driver obsolete. Self-driving cars beyond simple cruise control and “autopilot” seem to be the future. However, it seems that this development he time now. In fact, there just happened to be a self-driving vehicle back in 1971. How crazy is that? This specific driverless vehicle was created by the British Road Research Laboratory and was able to drive on its own through “electronic impulses relayed to the car through a special receiving unit affixed to the front.”At the time, researchers predicted that autonomous vehicles would be making drivers irrelevant by the year 2000. Obviously their predictions were a tiny bit off…give or take a decade. There has been footage released of this engineering marvel that was well ahead of its time.

Stories about driverless cars are pretty much everywhere these days. Apple, Uber and Google are investing heavily in self-driving technology, lawmakers are fretting over the policy implications of roads filled with driverless cars, Asia has tested their and even the University of Michigan built an entire mini-city to test autonomous vehicles. The footage from the 1971 experiment shows one of the first ever driverless cars driving around a test track, and it doesn’t use half of the technology that the latest offerings from Google (and others) contain.

Courtesy of AssociatedPress
Courtesy of AssociatedPress

“Some time in the future, they say, every vehicle on a main road network could be taken by remote control to its destination,” the narrator of the video says, “it may seem a  bit of a pipedream at the moment but researchers say that robot cars may be in everyday use within 30 years. “ The narration continues with, “Scientists assure us that it is the shape of things to come in highway travel. This robot car is the latest project understudied by the Road Research Laboratory.”

Courtesy of AssociatedPress
Courtesy of AssociatedPress

The video goes in-depth to explain how beck in this era they had to rely on computerized electronic impulses relayed to the car through a special receiving unit fixed to the front. Signals picked up from the inlaid track are interpreted by the unit to change the car’s course or its speed. In 1971, the UK’s Road Research Laboratory showed off this early prototype of a self-driving car which unfortunately could only adjusting its steering shakily. This was still impressive back then, “Look, no hands! And no driver, for that matter,” the narrator says, explaining that the car is capable of steering itself through “computerized electronic impulses relayed to the car through a special receiving unit fixed to the front.”

Courtesy of AssociatedPress
Courtesy of AssociatedPress

While it seems we are a decade too late according to the video, the leaps that our technology have take are definitely much further along. The distances covered by the current prototypes and the maneuvering far outdo this early model and I doubt they had smartphones on their minds then. However as a curious look into the history of automotive innovation, it’s definitely a noteworthy step towards our own future.

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