The 'Driverless' Car Era Began More Than 90 Years Ago

The 'Driverless' Car Era Began More Than 90 Years Ago

The driverless car era unofficially began in 1925 when a radio equipment firm, Houdina Radio Control Co., built the first radio-operated automobile.

Key findings

"The Houdina Radio Control Co., a radio equipment firm, was founded by former U.S. Army electrical engineer Francis P. Houdina (that was indeed his name, a detail to keep in mind for later). From the get-go, he had his sights set on transportation, and he built what’s believed to be the first radio-operated automobile. He rigged a 1926 Chandler sedan with a transmitting antenna, and the radio signals it received operated small electric motors that controlled the vehicle’s speed and direction. A crew trailing closely behind in a second vehicle controlled the phantom Chandler."

"In the summer of 1925, Houdina’s driverless car, called the American Wonder, traveled along Broadway in New York City—trailed by an operator in another vehicle—and down Fifth Avenue through heavy traffic. It turned corners, sped up, slowed down and honked its horn. Unfortunately, the demonstration ended when the American Wonder crashed into another vehicle filled with photographers documenting the event."

"Variations of Houdina’s magic car were showcased years later on city streets around the country, generating buzz wherever they drove. In June 1932, a driverless car stole the show at the Fredericksburg, Virginia Bigger Bargain Day event. Here’s a not-so-objective preview that appeared in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star: “One of the most amazing products of modern science will be demonstrated in Fredericksburg next Saturday, June 25, when the “Phantom Auto” will be piloted through the streets of the city without a driver or occupant, with no one touching it and with no wires or strings attached to it"."

Behind a hard paywall (paid accounts only)
Behind a soft paywall (limited views allowed until a paid account is required)





No items found.

See something that should be here that isn't? Have a suggestion to make?

Please let us know