Although the likes of Tesla’s Autopilot have brought self-driving cars to the roads, they still require active driver supervision and it will likely be a while before full autonomy arrives, although we are getting ever close.
The idea of self-driving vehicles isn’t new, however. Indeed, early prototypes were being tested way back in the last century.
The BBC Archive has released a BBC News broadcast video from May 18 1971 showcasing both driverless cars and the future of motoring. It comes from a British perspective, so there’s talk of the Channel Tunnel (“Chunnel”) and other UK specific issues, but it’s a fascinating insight into where experts saw motoring going.
The description for the video, which you can watch below, explains:
Britain’s roads are among the most crowded in the world, and it seems inevitable that in the future drivers will have to be more closely regimented. At the Road Research Lab in Berkshire, boffins are experimenting with some techniques and technology that might be commonplace to motorists by the end of the century. These include subterranean electric cables and on-board ‘black-box’ recorders — to assist with toll-paying and traffic regulation, public trials to find the most efficient means of getting vehicles on and off of the Channel Tunnel trains (optimistically scheduled for completion in 1978) and – most excitingly of all — tests of a driverless car.
The BBC was hugely optimistic in thinking the Channel Tunnel would be completed in 1978 — it actually opened sixteen years later in 1994.
It’s interesting to see both how far we’ve come, and how accurate some of the predications were.