Self-driving or autonomous cars sound like a 21st-century ambition that the automotive giants from around the world are racing towards. But, what if we were to tell you that the concept of driverless cars finds its roots in the inception of the car itself. For example, 'Phantom Auto' in the 1920s and General Motors Firebird prototypes with 'no-hold steering' in the 1950s. So, car manufacturers have actively been trying to remove the human element from a vehicle for a really long time. One such blast from the past comes from Continental from 50 years ago.
The first electronically controlled vehicle was tested at Continental's Contidrom test facility on 11 September 1968. Continental brought together three former Continental engineers: Klaus Weber, Herbert Ulsamer, and Hans-Juergen Meyer 50 years after the first public presentation of the driverless “E-Auto”.
The first public appearance of the E-Auto sent eyebrows rising and jaws dropping with headlines like 'The future is here' and 'Around the banked turn with a ghost at the wheel' doing rounds on over 400 media houses.
The autonomous system for Continental's driverless test vehicle was developed by Siemens, Westinghouse, and researchers at the technical universities of Munich and Darmstadt. The vehicle was guided by a wire on the road surface. The electronics system in the car used sensors to detect whether it was still on track and automatically adjusted the steering.
Continental's self-driving test vehicle was based on a Mercedes-Benz 250 Automatic, in which the engineers installed an electro-mechanical steering, electro-mechanical throttle regulator and a radio system for reporting measurements – cutting-edge technology at the time.
The exercise was meant to determine how tyres could be tested using scientific methods under programmed conditions, however, Continental was pushing boundaries with the E-Auto. Fifty years after the E-Auto was tested at the Contidrom, Continental is now working on the next generation of test systems for reliable, efficient and reproducible tyre tests in real-life conditions.