What shall we do if the car’s driving itself? Turn the seats round and play cards on a little table in the middle! The F 015 research car was not the first to take this approach, which also appears in a drawing from the middle of the last century. As bewilderingly new as the idea of autonomous driving seems, it’s a dream that has been around for a long time. It was a lack of practical feasibility that had prevented the vision of a robot car being turned into reality. Drawings on paper were the only medium that was patient enough for the fantastical transport concepts that flew in the face of reason. But how was this flying car supposed to work from a technological perspective? The separation of the lanes and prominent centre line suggest that these are what keep the car on course.
This vehicle brings to mind the little cars you see on theme park rides, sometimes by themselves, sometimes linked together. It’s a hybrid between a car and a train, a mini railway without rails that looks like a car. This is similar to the F 015, a car that drives as if it’s on rails but doesn’t need them to do so. (Image 2)
A technologically simple idea but one that is complicated to implement: the cable car principle that works so well up in the Alps is brought down to ground level. San Francisco’s cable cars, which are hauled up the hills by cables running under the road, demonstrated the feasibility of underground towing systems but luckily nobody tried using them to achieve the dream of driverless cars.
This transport version of pneumatic mail features a transparent tube so people can see where they’re going. It propels people along in specially designed capsules instead of cars. This gives the impression of travelling independently as if they were in their own car, although the tubes are more like a railway line than a road. (Image 4)
The concept of a city without cars and trains becomes plausible, if the pavement begins to transport people and objects. Speed seems not to be of the essence, but rather a comfortable strolling through urban streets. While the benches remind us of beach chairs, they are driven by miniature wheels allowing the cabins to move.
Not every visionary picture explains the technology that it depicts. Here, the man with his pipe and newspaper demonstrates the pleasure of travelling in a car that does have a steering wheel but you don’t need to keep turning it. The cartoon is literally ‘up in the air’ about whether this self-driving vehicle is a car or a flying capsule. In any case, it’s part of a multi-optional transport system integrating cars, buses and trains. (Image 6)
Neither road nor rail, but a combination of the two: this half-pipe-like channel forces the car to stay on course, even without a driver. Similar to how a water slide works, the grooves in the channel guide the car to its destination. An air cushion keeps it off the ground, but magnetic repulsion would also be conceivable. Why it has a steering wheel and whether this can be used to steer the car out of the empty riverbed will remain a mystery.
This cheerful scene from the 1950s is completely different again, looking to the future confident that the technological solution to the self-driving car will soon be found without any effort having to be made right now. (Image 8)
If the car can’t steer itself and you don’t want to take the wheel, then just hop into a capsule that whizzes along tubes crossing the town and the countryside. This idea for individual and mass transport was adapted from the technology used for pneumatic mail – a system in which air pressure propels capsules through narrow tubes.
The first computers were too far removed from artificial intelligence for anyone to imagine them replacing the driver. Nonetheless, the idea of a robot as chauffeur can be seen as a precursor to autonomous driving. A harbinger of the demographic changes to come, the robot acts as a driver for old ladies and gives them someone to talk to. (Image 11)
Image 1: Miller, H.
Image 2: Unknown
Image 3: Elder, Will
Image 4: Unknown
Image 5: Tinsley, Frank
Image 6: Unknown
Image 7: Bonnier Corporation
Image 8: Unknown
Image 9: Bonnier Corporation
Image 10: Hearst Corporation
Image 11: Carlson, Jonathan
Image 12: Unknown
Image 13: General Motors Company
Image 14: Balogh, Charles
Image 15: NBC Universal
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