A Timeline of the History of Self-Driving Cars

Here you are, practicing for your driver’s license test, while technology rapidly advances for cars that can drive themselves. This tech isn’t quite here yet, though, so keep studying. If you take a look at a timeline of the history of self-driving cars, you’ll see that we’ve been trying to get this show on the road for a long time.

A Timeline of the History of Self-Driving Cars

1925

It feels like we’re on the brink of truly autonomous cars, but they’ve been in the works for almost a hundred years. In 1925, the world got its first glimpse of the “American Wonder”—a self-driving car that took on New York City traffic. It drove up Broadway and down Fifth Avenue, followed by an operator in another car who controlled it with radio pulses sent to an antenna.

1939

At the World Fair in New York, visionary Norman Bel Geddes presented a “Futurama” exhibit sponsored by General Motors. It showcased a radio-controlled electric car enabled by circuits in the roadway.

1950s

General Motors refused to quit, showcasing a series of experimental cars called Firebirds. They contained an electronic guide system the company claimed could navigate “while the driver relaxes.”

1995

The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University developed a vehicle that completed a 3,100-mile cross-country drive. They reported that 98.2 percent of the journey was autonomously controlled, and called it “No Hands Across America.”

2009

Google started working on the technology for self-driving cars, but kept quiet about it.

2011

Nevada issued the first license for a self-driven car that could be tested on public streets. They distinguished the cars with license plates that had a red background and an infinity symbol on the left side.

2014

Finally, the first self-driving vehicle was put on the market! Unfortunately, it was a glamorous golf cart! Induct Technology’s shuttle could seat up to eight people but only went up to 12.5 miles an hour. It was intended to shuttle people around sprawling compounds like airports and theme parks.

2016

The first self-driving taxi service was unleashed on Singapore streets, courtesy of a company named nuTonomy.

2020

Tesla, which publicized its self-driving mission for years, released a beta version of its “Full Self-Driving” software in October. A small group of testers is reporting data. Indeed, technology has emerged with autonomous driving, but that doesn’t mean that you are 100% safe on the road.  

2021

Japan approved “Level 3” automated driving technology, legally allowing drivers to take their eyes off the road. In March, Honda took advantage of it. The timeline of the history of self-driving cars may have been long and winding, but now, 100 Legend Hybrid EX sedans lead the pack. The day you can buy your own autonomous car approaches—but you should get that driver’s license just in case.

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