Self-driving cars may still be in their infancy, but major auto companies have been envisioning a driverless future for almost 60 years.
In 1956, GM actually produced a TV show called “Key to the Future,” in which the company predicted self-driving cars would become a reality by 1976. GM aired the short musical during its Motorama auto show that year.
The show stars the company’s futuristic Firebird II concept car, which was the vehicle GM often used to demonstrate pushing the boundaries in design and technology.
In the video, a family travelling in the vehicle is stuck in traffic when all of a sudden the son, who is sitting in the front seat, turns a knob on the car’s console and the family is transported 20 years into the future driving down a radar-controlled highway that enables autonomous driving.
While GM was a little bit optimistic about the timing of self-driving cars in the video, it did one big thing right about how the technology would evolve.
Instead of completely autonomous vehicles, the company envisioned a self-driving system that works more like an the Autopilot function recently introduced by Tesla, where the driver can choose to hand over control to an automated system.
In the video, the dad is first shown driving with his hands on the steering wheel. But then he adjusts some knobs on the dashboard, gets in a designated lane for self-driving cars, and hands over control to an autopilot system that is guided by radar.
The steering wheel then retracts into the dashboard, and the dad begins to smoke a cigar (not kidding).
Autopilot systems, enabled by radar, cameras, and other sensing technologies, are of course how many automakers are approaching self-driving cars.
Mercedes introduced some semi-autonomous safety features in its S-Class sedans in 2014. And most recently Tesla rolled out its Autopilot system, which enables it to do things like automatically merge on highways, self-parallel park, and steer itself. Cadillac, which is owned by GM, is also planning to introduce it’s autopilot system called Super Cruise sometime next year.
Another thing GM sort of got right in its vision of the future was that display screens and voice enabled functions would become a common way to access information inside cars.
The family uses a voice-activated display on the console to communicate with an Autoway Safety Authority control officer and to communicate with a receptionist at a hotel to make reserve a room.
Today, automakers are increasingly putting more screens in vehicles as a way to control the cars functions, and to help people communicate easier. Think Siri-enabled messages
Check out the video below to see for yourself how General Motors envisioned the future of self-driving cars.
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