Let’s take a look at why manufacturers, motorists and inventors across the world celebrate Autonomous Vehicles Day on May 31st.
Autonomous vehicles aren’t just a part of sci-fi anymore. Tech behemoths like Tesla, Uber, Baidu, General Motors, etc., have rolled out prototypes of self-driving cars on the streets of several US cities. If you’re observant, you can spot them shuttling from one location to another without anyone behind the wheel.
To celebrate this significant leap in the automotive industry and to stay abreast with the latest autonomous inventions, people and organizations across the world celebrate Autonomous Vehicles Day on the 31st of May.
Who founded Autonomous Vehicles Day?
The American technology talk show host Marlo Anderson founded this day in 2017, along with the entrepreneurial ecosystem platform American Prairie. They chose 2017 because, in that year, the US Department of Transportation announced the first ten testing sites solely dedicated to developing autonomous vehicles.
But, even though history will recall May 31, 2017, as the world’s first Autonomous Vehicles Day, stories and legends conclude that the idea of self-driving vehicles dates back to 130 B.C. To understand this estimate, let’s brush up on some history.
History and evolution of Autonomous Vehicles
Several ancient and modern writers, scientists, and inventors have invested time and resources into exploring the concept of self-driving vehicles. One of the first mentions of a self-driving vehicle might be a magic carpet that flew King Phraates the II of Parthia (today part of Iran and Turkmenistan) into battle in 130 B.C.
This incident is obviously more fiction than a fact, so let’s fast forward to the 19th century when Robert Whitehead developed self-propelled torpedoes that could guide themselves while maintaining a certain depth. This invention was one of many that laid the roots for developing other types of self-navigating vehicles.
The real breakthrough in the field of autonomous vehicles came in 1925 when army engineer Houdina developed a Phantom car, which he drove around the streets of New York using a remote control. It was called Phantom as the bystanders saw no one driving it.
After this incident, it took General Motors just 14 years to roll out the famous ‘Futurama’ exhibit at New York’s world fair. This exhibit showcased how electronics could automate highways and steer cars on those highways. While this concept made for an excellent exhibition, it was not until the 1960-70s that the Stanford Cart invented a mechanism for robotic mobility using cameras. These two elements form the core of autonomous vehicles today.
But what was manufactured by the Stanford Cart was a modern but prototypical mechanism. The new-age autonomous vehicle – one that can drive itself without any human intervention, not even remote controls, was yet to come to life.
And so it did in 1977, at Japan’s Tsukuba Lab. It was developed by Sadayuki Tsugawa and his colleagues.
Experiments with autonomous vehicles continued till 1986 when a German scientist Ernst Dickman saw his driverless van drive on the skidpan inside a research university. But, it wasn’t until 1994 that two autonomous limousines by Mercedes picked up passengers from the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
Things sped up after this, and between 2004 to 2007, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), USA, introduced competitions to encourage several private players to develop new-age autonomous cars. Fast forward to 2016, the first autonomous public transport bus was introduced in Finland.
All of this finally brings us to 2017, when The U.S. State Department of Transportation announces the ten testing sites for developing autonomous vehicles. This led to the formal announcement of Autonomous Vehicles Day on the 31st of May.
Observing Autonomous Vehicles Day
People embrace and observe Autonomous Vehicles Day by reading and talking about the latest developments in the field. They also share any personal experiences of riding in an autonomous vehicle on various online platforms, including social media. Many also tune in to special podcasts that feature techies developing autonomous cars.
How did you celebrate?