How long have self-driving cars been around?

I was thinking about buying a Tesla with the optional full self-driving feature. It makes me want to know more about the history of self-driving cars in general. How long have self-driving cars been available?

Eric Schad · Answered on Dec 12, 2022
Reviewed by Shannon Martin, Licensed Insurance Agent.
Although autonomous vehicles seem like a relatively new technology, self-driving cars have been around since 1939 in some capacity. Created for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, the first self-driving car was the brainchild of engineers at General Motors.
While comparatively primitive to what’s available today, in 1939, the engineers guided the vehicle through radio-controlled electromagnetic fields that reacted with magnetic spikes in the roadway.
Further technological advancements over the past eight decades have allowed companies to continue their work on automated vehicles. As you mentioned, Tesla is a frontrunner in the field, which includes several other automakers and tech firms:
  • Apple
  • Waymo
  • Ford
  • Audi
  • Kia-Hyundai
  • Huawei
Keep in mind that self-driving features from Tesla (Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, or Full Self-Driving) and other manufacturers still currently require an attentive driver and are not fully autonomous. However, the race for fully autonomous vehicles has created enough competition that points to them becoming available as soon as 2026.
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