The Thrill Is Gone
Driverless cars may deliver many benefits, including fewer traffic accidents. But will they be any fun?
The January 1958 issue of the Radio Corp. of America’s Electronic Age magazine was hitand-miss in its predictions. The widespread availability of colour television worked out as forecast. But “Radio via Meteor Trails?” This was a story claiming scientists were bouncing radio waves off the ionized particles left behind by meteors entering the atmosphere, for some odd reason. Either this idea never bore fruit, or it’s still so top secret that sinister men in dark suits are going to be knocking on my door and dragging me away within the next few minutes.
Yet another article in the magazine gushed that RCA was building a microwave radio network for the government of Cuba. Unfortunately, this fearless forecast of tomorrow failed to predict the overthrow of the Cuban government by Fidel Castro’s guerrillas exactly one year later, on January 1, 1959. There’s probably a dramatic story yet to be told of RCA engineers fleeing in little boats overloaded with microwave transmitters.
But one sci-fi projection in that 1958 magazine may actually be taking shape—the driverless car. Electronic Age revealed that RCA was testing driverless cars on closed tracks even then, using circuitry embedded in the pavement and roadside sensors. Elsewhere a 1957 magazine ad from “America’s Independent Electric Light and Power Companies” showed a family racing down the highway