Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Self-driving cars? We had ‘em back in ‘56
No question, Google’s self-driving car has captured the public imagination. But really, the fascination is nothing new. For instance, at the 1939 World’s Fair, people thronged to see GM’s Futurama exhibit, which depicted a world of cars controlled by radio signals. GM continued to promote its autonomous vision in the 1950s with the Firebird II, a turbine-powered car that could drive itself by following an "electronic control strip" embedded in the road. Here, for example, is a GM-produced video from 1956 in which a musically adept family goes for an autonomous drive:
Fast-forward to today, when it seems that everyone is writing about self-driving cars. Most articles don’t add anything new to the discussion, but their ubiquity suggests that, as a society, we are preparing ourselves for a future in which we give up some degree of control to our vehicles. I find it fascinating that an automaker was at the avant-garde of this process as far back as the 1930s. Talk about looking (way) ahead.
And you know what’s cool? Comparing the vision of the good life captured in the above video with the vision captured in the “Imagined” video that QNX produced 56 years later. In both cases, autonomous drive forms part of the story. And in both cases, an autonomous car helps to bring family together, though in completely different ways. It seems that, no matter how much technology (and our vision of technology) changes, the things closest to our hearts never do:
One more thing. Did you notice how much the sets in the GM video look like something straight out of the Jetson’s, right down to the bubble-domed car? They did to me. Mind you, the video predates the Jetson’s by several years, so if anything, the influence was the other way around.