Watch: How autonomous cars were envisioned in 1956

26 Oct 2015

We hear a lot about the development of autonomous cars these days by the likes of Tesla and Volvo, but 60 years ago the idea was already being hashed out by futurists at General Motors (GM).

In this new and scary post Back to the Future Day world, our world is finally getting to see hydrogen cars, self-tying shoes and hoverboards, but the legendary Back to the Future 2 film hadn’t predicted autonomous cars.

With Tesla making considerable headway in the field, and Volvo putting the marker down by saying it will take responsibility for any crashes that happen in its own prototype autonomous cars, we can truly say we are at the dawn of a new age.

But way, way back in 1956, GM was already fleshing out the concept of a futuristic world where autonomous cars not only existed but had items in it that we could only dream of.

It’s actually a bit depressing to think that this was envisioned as being a reality just 20 years later in 1976. After all, when you think of it, we made it to the moon 13 years later so it’s only natural to have expected that we would have made major technological improvements on Earth, too.

As for what the GM futurists got right, well, the cars appear to have GPS (although the first satellite wasn’t even launched at this stage) and car diagnostics, which we have today.

Where it got it totally wrong was the idea that we would need to talk to a control tower like a pilot to engage autopilot.

My favourite line, that is the epitome of the 1950s spirit, is said by the father: “Ah, this is the life. Safe, cool, comfortable. Mind if I smoke a cigar?”

Envisioned 1950s future cartoon image via James Vaughan/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic