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SAE Showcases Vehicles that Pioneered Autonomous Technology

Author: Mia Bevacqua   

Autonomous vehicle technology is nothing new. Like so many other concepts that claim to be ground breaking, the idea of self-driving cars has been around for awhile. Until recently though, computing power wasn't great enough to support the dream. Many early attempts at autonomous vehicles had very little computational ability – if any at all. Even so, it's still interesting to look at the forerunners to todays smart vehicles.  

SAE's Mobility History Committee will cover cars that pioneered autonomy at the upcoming "History of the Future" WCX Learning Lab presentation. These are a few of the vehicles the Society of Automotive Engineers will highlight. 

1912 Cadillac Model 30

Before 1912, you didn't need to hit the gym to get a work out. At the time, internal combustion-powered cars had to be hand cranked to start. The 1912 Cadillac Model 30 automated the starting process by introducing the Delco electric starter.

1940 Oldsmobile 

Without automatic transmissions, it would be very difficult to eat a cheeseburger while driving. Self-driving cars wouldn't be possible, either. Oldsmobile made life easier in 1940 by introducing the first automatic transmission, the Hydra-Matic.

1956 GM Firebird II

The Firebird I and II were over the top concept cars, displayed as part of GM's Motorama auto show. Firebird II was larger than its predecessor and offered seating for up to four passengers. It also had a guidance system that followed signals from wire embedded in the roadway. This allowed the car to drive by itself – at least on test tracks fitted with the appropriate underground electronics. 

1960 Cadillac Coupe DeVille

Cruise control is something we take for granted these days. Typically, even the cheapest of base models has it. It wasn't always that way, though. Modern Cruise control was first introduced on the1958 Chrysler Imperial. Soon after, it was made available on the 1960 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. This system allowed the driver to relinquish speed control duties. It also paved the way for the adaptive cruise control of today. 

1988 Cadillac Voyage

The 1988 Cadillac Voyage concept car was far ahead of its time. It showcased many of the advanced features found on vehicles today. For example, it sported LED rear lights and turn signals, along with a rearview camera. There was also keyless entry, voice recognition and integrated navigation. Sure, these are all functions you can get on a minivan today, but for the 1980s, they were revolutionary. 

2007 Chevrolet Tahoe

GM and Carnegie Mellon University teamed up in 2007 to build a self-driving Chevy Tahoe for the DARPA Grand Challenge. The vehicle made history, autonomously navigating the test course created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Nicknamed "The Boss", the truck used data from radar, lidar and cameras. It also had a Position and Orientation System with integrated GPS and a MobileEye Vision System.


It's incredible to think of how automotive technology has advanced in a little over a century. We can only guess at what the self-driving, connected future holds. 


Sources: SAE

Mia Bevacqua
Mia is an ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician, L1, L2 and L3 Advanced Level Specialist. She has over 12 years of experience in the automotive industry and a bachelor’s degree in automotive technology. These skills have been applied toward content writing, technical writing, inspections, consulting, automotive software engineering.
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