A look back at self driving car history will show that experiments with the concept have been in the works since the 1920s. While technology has come a long way, it is incredible to see the evolution of autonomous vehicles.

Early Beginnings of Self Driving Car History

Self driving car technology began with the linrrican Wonder in 1925. The vehicle was a 1926 Chandler, equipped with radio-controlled driverless technology by the radio equipment firm Houdina Radio Control. The vehicle was driven through New York City, driving up Broadway and Fifth Avenue during a typical New York traffic jam.

The Linrrican Wonder’s design featured a transmitting antennae, with the demonstration conducted by a second car which followed it during its test drive. The second car sent radio impulses to the Linrrican Wonder’s transmitting antennae, which sent signals to the circuit-breakers to direct the vehicle’s movement.History of Self Driving Cars


Following the linrrican Wonder was the invention of Phantom Auto, another radio controlled. The demonstration of self driving car technology was conducted by the Achen Motor company in Milwaukee, first in 1926 and then again in 1932.

At the World’s Fair in 1939, General Motors sponsored an exhibit by Norman Bel Geddes, titled Futurama. It demonstrated a similar autonomous vehicle technology. Although it was controlled through radio-control, the vehicle was also controlled through electromagnetic fields which were ingrained on the roadway. As a result of its success, Norman Bel Geddes went on to write in his 1940 book, Magic Motorways, that people should be removed from driving altogether, as well as recommended a change in highway design.

While driving advancements were halted during the United States’ entry to World War II, both the 1950s and 1960s continued such advancement. RCA Labs created a car that was controlled via a pattern of wires on the laboratory’s floor in 1953. This lead to a life size implementation in 1958. RCA Labs teamed up with General Motors, the State of Nebraska and the Nebraska Department of Roads to implement this technology on a 400-foot strip of road. The design featured circuits underneath the pavement with lights on the edge of the road. The circuits sent pulses to guide the vehicle.

By the 1960s Ohio State University’s Communication and Control Systems Laboratory worked to develop electronic devices that would be placed under the pavement to help guide vehicles autonomously. Meanwhile, in the UK, experiments were being done with magnetic cables in the pavement.

A Modern Day Approach to Autonomous Vehicles

The 1980s saw further advancements, with a vision-guided robotic van by Mercedes-Benz. It was one of the biggest breakthroughs of the decade for autonomous driving. As well, the Autonomous Land Vehicle (ALV) project utilized autonomous technologies such as lidar, computer vision and autonomous robotic control in 1987. Carnegie Mellon University utilized neural networks in 1989. These applications are used in self driving car technology today, in areas such as collision avoidance systems with a focus on vehicle control and sensing vehicle trajectory.

The 1990s saw a jump towards a self driving car future with increased advancements, both legislative and technological. The ISTEA Transportation Authorization bill was passed by United States Congress in 1991, which authorized and instructed the United States Department of Transportation to demonstrate an autonomous vehicle and highway system by 1997. The demonstration included an array of self driving cars, busses and trucks. Other advancements such as the Navlab project (in which a vehicle drove across America for 98.2% of the 5,000 km journey without human intervention) and Alberto Broggi’s ARGO Project (which featured a modified Lancia Thema that followed painted lane markings) also marked significant advancements.

An Autonomous Future

As self driving car advancements continued into the early 2000s, much of it turned to military and public transportation. Google quietly closed the decade with beginning to develop its self driving car in 2009. By 2013, many consumer brands such as Ford, GM, Audi, BMW, Volvo, and Toyota had begun testing their self driving car systems.

With advancements in autonomous features, such as aspects of many new vehicles’ collision avoidance systems, it is safe to say that the future of autonomous vehicles is unavoidable. Experts predict that by 2035 self driving cars will dominate the consumer market. As well, experts believe that by 2040 self driving cars will account for 75% of vehicles on the road. It will not only be technology advancements that will allow for the smooth rollout of self driving cars, legislation and public perception are critical to the smooth introduction of self driving cars for broad market consumption.