The ‘Driverless’ Car Era Began More Than 90 Years Ago

Regardless of when society relinquishes the driver’s seat to algorithms and LIDAR, we’re fast closing in on a new chapter of transportation. But this pursuit of self-driving vehicles wasn’t a sprint; rather, it’s been a marathon that unofficially began in 1925: the year a driverless car rolled down the streets of New York City. It was a magical accomplishment, in more ways than one.

We say the driverless car era unofficially began in 1925, because four years prior, the military unveiled a working, radio-controlled car that was rolled out on the streets of Dayton, Ohio in 1921. The “car” was a three-wheeled, coffin-like proof-of-concept that looked like it was more suited to carrying yard clippings than passengers. If you want to be super technical, the first unmanned ground vehicle was a radio-controlled tricycle constructed by Leonardo Torres-Quevedo in 1904.