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“The world we are now seeing is a vision, an artistic conception, which may undergo many changes as it develops into the great realities of tomorrow.” New York World’s Fair, Futurama: Highways & Horizons, 1939. Credit: General Motors

Where to Next?

Where To? A History of Autonomous Vehicles, on exhibit at CHM May 9, 2015–December 1, 2019.
New York World’s Fair, Futurama: Highways & Horizons, 1939. At the time visions of freeways cutting right through city centers were still considered chic and futuristic. Credit: General Motors
Euston Railway Station, London, showing the original wrought iron roof of 1837. That year, Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke demonstrated the first electrical telegraph between here and the station at Camden Town, as a control system for then-new railroads. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Old people began to cross the continent in their own cars. Young people found the driverless car admirable for petting. The blind for the first time were safe. Parents found they could more safely send their children to school in the new car than in the old cars with a chauffeur.

Illustration by Frank R. Paul for “The Living Machine” by David H. Keller, the first story we could identify that talks about autonomous cars. In Wonder Stories, May 1935. Continental Publications, edited by Hugo Gernsback.
Misconceptions about new technologies are nothing new. The common Victorian belief that a train ride could cause instant, temporary insanity persisted even into the 20th century. Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 10 August 1904. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (
Concept video showing smart intersection where cars don’t stop but pass between each other, coordinated by the self-driving network. “Shanghai 2030” video, General Motors

The Rest of the Robots

Shakey the robot, “grandfather” of self-driving cars. Along with the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Cart, Shakey at SRI pioneered techniques for navigating through an unfamiliar environment with artificial intelligence and machine vision. Photo © Mark Richards
Minuteman Missile Guidance Computer, c. 1960. Among the first autonomous vehicles to use digital computers for control were nuclear-tipped missiles. Computer History Museum/Photograph © Mark Richards

Augmentation and Autonomy

Whoa, Nelly! Boston Dynamics, Legged Squad Support System Robot prototype for DARPA, 2012. Around the size of a horse. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Coming to a street near you? La Contessa, galleon vehicle at Burning Man, 2005. By Neil Girling, Creative Commons license


The shape of cars to come? This image is of a current production one-person vehicle that still requires a human driver. Shoprider Flagship 4-Wheel Cabin Scooter. American Quality Health Products

Atoms and Bits

About the Author




Sharing stories, ideas, and insights from CHM in Silicon Valley.

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