Science Fiction Dictionary
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

Latest By

Artificial Intelligence
Data Storage
Input Devices
Living Space
Space Tech
Virtual Person

"Retire? Yeah, I want to die with my head in the typewriter. That's my idea of retirement."
- Alfred Bester

Automatic Car (Autonomous)  
  A car that drives itself; an autonomous vehicle.  

As far as I know, this is the first description of an autonomous car.

I waited for some minutes for Kaspar to appear. Then I walked all around the curious vehicle, and I finally decided to get into the car and wait there for Kaspar. So I climbed in and sat down, with a queer feeling at the complete absence of the steering wheel and gear-shift levers. However, on the dashboard were a great many dials; and something was ticking quietly somewhere inside the machine.

Then there was a “clickety-click” and a whirr of the motor, and the car moved gently away from the curb. It swerved out into the street, gathered speed, and then turned to the right around a corner. It slowed down for two women crossing the street, and avoided a truck coming toward us. It gave me an eerie feeling to sit in the thing and have it carry me around automatically...

(Autonomous Car from 'Paradise and Iron' by Miles Breuer)

I examined the dials on the instrument-board closely. There were ten of them, and they had knobs like the dials on a safe-door, or like the tuning dials on a radio receiving set. Some of them had letters around the periphery and others had figures. I looked for something that said “stop” or “start", but there was nothing of the sort, nor even any words of any kind. There were a number of meters, but a speedometer was the only one whose use I recognized. The whole proposition looked about as impossible to me as a Chinese puzzle...

What was the truth about my compulsory ride in the automatic car?

Technovelgy from Paradise and Iron, by Miles J. Breuer.
Published by Amazing Stories Quarterly in 1930
Additional resources -

Eventually, the protagonist learns to use the car, named "Sappho", and succeeds in setting the destination:

“All right, Sappho, you old coffee-grinder; we’ll slip off by ourselves this morning.”

My derogatory epithets were pure fun, for the car was trim and swift-looking, and its machinery in the most perfect order, as far as I could tell by its sound and its performance. I continued to talk to it as I got in and studied the dials. I went to work carefully to set them. It was like working the combination of a big safe. There were four for directions, and a distance dial to set each time between them, while the left hand handled the speed dial simultaneously during the entire time. A little pointer traveled on a chart all the while, to check up the setting as well as to assist in determining directions and distances from a map when these were unknown to the driver. The study of this map provided me with much subsequently useful knowledge of the island and the cities...

With a soft, rustling sound of its marvelous mechanism, the little green-black car glided out of the garage and into the street. I was as elated as a child with a new toy, at having succeeded in operating it on my own initiative.

“Attaboy Sappho!” I applauded.

There was even a provision for taking back control of an autonomous car without a steering wheel:

"Whoa!” I shouted. "There’s something wrong here!”

The only explanation that I could possibly think of was that I had made some mistake in Betting the dials. Yet, that was not altogether plausible. I could readily see how I might have made some minor error which could have gotten me off the track a little. But this sort of behavior would necessitate a radical and fundamental error; and I felt sure that I knew more about them than to have set them completely backwards.

I reached for the levers that were used to drive the car by “actual control” as the people called it; that is, to control each movement individually; and I tried to turn it around. There was a good deal of grinding and knocking in the mechanism, and much irregularity in the car’s progress; but it continued its course back home, and would not answer to my efforts. Therefore, I decided that something had gone wrong with the mechanism.

Dr. David H. Keller, MD, also described at length an autonomous car in his 1935 story The Living Machine:

[John Poorson, inventor, was inspired by an all-to-common circumstance:]

The glancing blow from the recklessly driven automobile had spun him into the gutter, but had injured little except his pride and his clothing.

"And that is just one more reason why the average human being should not be allowed to drive such a powerful machine!" he mused to himself. "it has taken the combined intelligence of all the scientists of modern time to perfect the automobile and yet it is sold to and driven by any moronic fool who is able to gather together the few dollars necessary to buy a secondhand one."

[Now, let's see what he created in response to this incident.]

"I want to show you something new in the way of an automobile."

"Nothing new about this," laughed Babson, scornfully. "One of our best and most familiar models."

"How about the steering wheel?"

"Where is it?"

"I do not need one. Sit down and make yourself comfortable. Now watch me. We are going into traffic..."

Keller also pointed out the advantages of the self driving car!

Old people began to cross the continent in their own cars. Young people found the driverless car admirable for petting. The blind for the first time were safe. Parents found they could more safely send their children to school in the new car than in the old cars with a chauffeur.

Compare to the Automatic Control Car from Arthur C. Clarke's Imperial Earth.

Comment/Join this discussion ( 0 ) | RSS/XML | Blog This |

Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Paradise and Iron
  More Ideas and Technology by Miles J. Breuer
  Tech news articles related to Paradise and Iron
  Tech news articles related to works by Miles J. Breuer

Automatic Car (Autonomous)-related news articles:
  - A Baker's Dozen Of Autonomous Car-Related Revolutions
  - Google Should Name Roads After Science Fiction Authors
  - Baby Boomers Will LOVE Autonomous Cars (Trust Me!)
  - Tesla To Eye Future With New Sensors?
  - Sex In Driverless Cars? Updated With Video!
  - Cruise Autonomous Car Drives Aimlessly For An Hour
  - Autonomous Waymo Jaguar I-PACEs In San Francisco

Articles related to Vehicle
Elon Musk Says Robotaxis Will Be Ready This August, 2024
Cheap Drunk Driver Detection From UofM
More Like A Tumblebug Than A Motorcycle
Tesla Camera-Only Vision Predicted In 1930's SF

Want to Contribute an Item? It's easy:
Get the name of the item, a quote, the book's name and the author's name, and Add it here.





Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Science Fiction Invention Timeline, or see what's New.





Science Fiction Timeline
1940's   1950's
1960's   1970's
1980's   1990's
2000's   2010's

Science Fiction in the News

SpaceX Wants A Moonbase Alpha
'And he had been sent with troops, supplies and bombs to command Russia's most trusted post, the Moonbase.'

Vast Apartment Living Will Get Even More Vast
'What is your population', I asked. 'About eighty millions.'

NASA Wants Self-Driving Or Remote-Controlled Vehicles For Lunar Astronauts
'THE autobus turned silently down the wide street of Hydropole. Robot-guided, insulated from noise and cold...'

Elon Musk Says Robotaxis Will Be Ready This August, 2024
'The car had no steering wheel, and no one drove!'

Moonwalkers AI-Controlled Electric Shoes
Now that's power walking that Hugo Gernsback would have approved.

Steve Jobs: 'Capture The Next Aristotle - With AI'
'It was disturbing to think of the Flatline as a construct...'

No Tips! Robotic Food Delivery In Phoenix
'...he rewired the delivery robot so that it would serve him midnight snacks.'

Electric Catamaran 'Explorer Eco 40m' Has 'Solar Skin'
'On went the electric-yacht faster and still faster.'

Orbital Mechanics, The Liftoff, The Turnover, The Retrograde Burn
'...the huge vessel had spun, with a sickening lurch, through a complete half-circle, the instant the power was reversed.'

Harvest Power From Tears And Blinking With Smart Contact Lens
'...he realized that it was not quite a clear lens. Speckles of colored brightness swirled and gathered in it.'

More SF in the News

More Beyond Technovelgy

Home | Glossary | Science Fiction Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise | - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.