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The Past and Future of Self-Driving Vehicles

The past and future of self-driving vehicles


The history of driverless cars and what’s coming next

At a time when trucker shortages and airborne diseases are high-ranking concerns, automated vehicles offer new potential for companies that are unable to fill jobs for drivers. The idea of riding in a self-driving vehicle also appeals to people who commute long distances and would prefer not to be actively stuck behind the wheel for hours each day.

Autonomous vehicles come in the form of passenger cars, delivery trucks, buses, taxis and virtually any type of motor vehicle on the road. These vehicles don’t require a human to operate them safely. Instead, they utilize software and sensors to operate and maneuver our roadways.

The origins of autonomous vehicles

Many people are surprised to learn that the 1st design of an automated vehicle dates back to the late 1400s. In 1478, Leonardo Da Vinci sketched the concept for a cart that was self-propelled. Designed to travel on a predetermined path, the cart didn’t need to be pushed or pulled in order to move. Da Vinci's cart is also known by some as the world's 1st robot.

Another early predecessor to today's self-propelled vehicles was known as the Fardier. It was a steam-powered machine invented by Nicholas Cugnot that traveled at a speed of approximately 2 miles per hour.

The progression of self-driving cars

At the 1939 World's Fair, General Motors debuted a model of the 1st self-driving car. The vehicle operated along a road with magnetized spikes embedded, and remote-controlled electromagnetic fields guided the car. GM built the car 19 years later in 1958.

Driverless cars were 1st put to use in 1961 when researchers were looking for ways to land vehicles on the moon. Research findings led James Adams to build the Stanford Cart. The cart was fitted with cameras and programmed to travel along a line on the ground.

By 1977, a Japanese-made automated vehicle debuted with a built-in camera. The camera transferred data to a computer, which processed images of the road. This development led to the testing of an automated passenger vehicle that was capable of reaching speeds up to 20 miles per hour.

In 1990, Carnegie Mellon University began building self-driving vehicles. By 1995, the university had developed the NavLab 5. The NavLab 5 traveled from Pittsburgh to San Diego, and apart from its speed and braking, which were controlled by Carnegie Mellon researchers, the car traveled autonomously.

Vehicle automation in the 2000s

The autonomous vehicle industry had largely developed by the early 2000s. It was at this time that the U.S. Department of Defense sponsored a series of challenges to expedite advancement in the technology of automated cars. When the government agency challenged automakers to develop a self-driven vehicle that could navigate a 60-mile urban course, 4 automated vehicles were able to complete the route.

By the mid-2010s, several companies, including BMW, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz, tested self-driving vehicles. Rideshare programs like Uber also experimented with automation.

However, each company ended its self-driven vehicle operations as true autonomy proved challenging. Companies like Uber specifically cited money loss and lawsuits as major challenges.

Tesla has come the closest to putting a fully autonomous vehicle on the market by offering a “self-driving” package for their vehicles.

Automated vehicles currently on the road

Currently, there are more than 1,400 self-driving cars in the U.S. California was among the 1st states to test automated vehicles on public roads. Now, more than 80 companies are testing driverless cars for commercial use—62 of those companies are in California.

Globally, the autonomous vehicle market is valued at $54 billion. Researchers expect the value to increase tenfold over the next 5 to 7 years.

What's coming next for self-driven vehicles?

Despite some recent setbacks, the autonomous vehicle industry continues to move forward. With popular tech companies entering the landscape, industry experts believe that self-driving vehicles will continue to expand their popularity and capabilities.

Here’s a summary of what’s on the horizon from manufacturers of autonomous vehicles.


Tesla's current “Full Self-Driving'' technology is under investigation after the emergence of a pattern of accidents, including 1 instance in 2019 that resulted in 2 fatalities after a Tesla functioning in Autopilot mode hit another car. Therefore, the auto manufacturer is unlikely to upgrade their vehicles' level of automation in the coming year.


Mercedes-Benz is expected to launch the automaker's 1st Level 3 automated vehicle using the brand's Driver Pilot technology. Level 3 allows drivers to be uninvolved in controlling the vehicle. However, the vehicle may prompt the driver to resume control if the system detects certain driving conditions.

General Motors

The quest for autonomous vehicles at General Motors is currently focused on maximizing capability in the Level 2 autonomy category. Super Cruise will become Ultra Cruise in 2023. Ultra Cruise will obey traffic signals and stop signs and be capable of making automated or driver-assisted lane changes, depending on the road conditions.


The Honda Legend is expected to be available with Level 3 automation that takes over in traffic jam situations. Honda Sensing Elite handles low-speed driving in congested conditions to allow the driver to divert attention elsewhere. Because Honda Sensing is a Level 3 system, drivers should still remain alert and be able to resume controlling the vehicle in certain conditions.


Ford is evolving its Blue Cruise system, which will work on 130,000 miles of road in North America. The system will maintain a set speed, spacing, lane tracking, stopping and going, and recognize posted speed limits.

Tech companies

Tech companies are also working on rolling out autonomous ride-hailing services.

Alphabet, Google's parent company, plans to expand Waymo One, a ride-hailing app. The company's employees in San Francisco recently began using the app to book fully autonomous rides.

Amazon's Zoox is expanding to Las Vegas and eventually hopes to operate in Seattle next. Zoox is working toward creating a vehicle that can travel bidirectionally without a driver being present in the vehicle at all.

When to contact a California car accident attorney

Accidents involving autonomous vehicles aren’t legally cut and dry. There is yet to be legislation covering liability. Some say the driver is liable; others say the manufacturer is to blame, and some claim states are at fault for not having legislation in place.

One thing is clear—if you are involved in an accident with a driverless vehicle, you need an attorney with experience navigating these unique cases.

At MVP Accident Attorneys, our attorneys are knowledgeable about the ever-changing rules and regulations around self-driving cars. We can investigate your case and negotiate with insurance companies to ensure you get the maximum compensation you deserve after an accident with a self-driving vehicle.

If you’ve been injured in an accident in California with a self-driving car, contact one of the experienced car accident lawyers at MVP Accident Attorneys. We’ve helped thousands of satisfied clients recover millions of dollars in damages, and we’d love to help you too. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation of your case.


brett sachs2
Brett Sachs

Brett S. Sachs graduated from Michigan State University College of Law with Cum Laude Honors. While attending Michigan State, Brett was awarded for his service in the Michigan State University College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, where he represented prisoners of the Michigan Department of Corrections from injustices brought upon them. Learn more.

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