The History of the Driverless Car: From Dreams to Reality



  • Autonomous or driverless cars are something once thought of as a futuristic, robotic wonder but they could be gracing public roads much sooner than you think and are now capable of getting from A to B without the need for human intervention. There have been many advancement over the years, going back perhaps further than you think, so here’s a brief history of the Autonomous car to show you just how far they’ve come.

The Early Years

  • 1478: “Leonardo’s Car” a propeller powered vehicle, which was to use springs and programmable steering to move along, designed by Da Vinci himself.
  • 1920s: “Iinrrican Wonder” the radio-controlled car, a 1926 Chandler, is created.
  • 1930s: The Futurama Exhibition see’s Norman Bel Geddes radio control car revealed – an early example of the Autonomous Car. 

The 60’s, 70’s and 80’s

  • 1960’s: “Stanford Cart” is created by scientists as a lunar rover prototype.
  • 1977: Japan creates a vehicle that can travel up to 50metres at 30km/h. Funding stopped in 1981.
  • 1980: The first example of robot car is produced by Ernst Bickmanns and his University of Bunderwehr (Munich) team. It features saccadic vision and balman filters.
  • 1987-1995: Largest robot car project ever has $1million investment – the Pan-European Prometheus Project/Eureka Prometheus Project.

The 90’s and 00’s

  • 1990: ALVINN is trained to steer up to 20 mph in different scenarios and road types.
  • 1994: VAMP and VITA², twin robots, drive 2000km at up to 130 km/h on busy Paris multi-lane roads and demonstrating autonomous driving such as convoy driving and lane changes.
  • 1995: Dickmanns re-engineers a Mercedes-Benz by and drives 1000miles from Bavaria to Denmark and back – it drives with no human intervention for 158 km.
  • 1995: Sponsored tour of America from Pittsburgh to San Diego (No Hands Across America) programmed by RALPH to use video to sense location and steering.
  • 2000’s: 3 Military driverless vehicles are funded by the US Government (Demo I, DARPA, DEMO II) for unplanned/difficult off-road driving.
  • 2006: Netherlands install driverless public road transport system.


  • 2010: Driverless Audi TTS drives at almost race speeds up Pikes Peak.
  • 2012: TAP system tested by Volkswagen – allows unassisted driving up to 80mph.
  • 2013: Major Car Manufacturers are testing driverless car technologies, including Volkswagen, Ford and Volvo – many models have limited autonomous functions and features available already.
  • 2014: Induct Technology Navia Shuttle, a driverless 8 person buggy, is introduced for public sale.

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