While we are all by now familiar with Tesla, Self-Driving Ubers, The Google Self-Driving Car Project, and the rumored Apple Car, it’s high time we paid homage to the top five original unsung heroes of autonomous vehicles.
1. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood – “Trolley”
Inventor: Mr. Fred Rogers
Not only was the electric, unmanned “Neighborhood Trolley” found in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood autonomous, it also possessed an impressive AI framework, responding intelligently to voice commands and expressing itself through a series of whimsical whistles and bells. Though limited to two tracks, personality programming was also evident as this humble public transportation would jerk itself backwards and forwards in an adorable attempt at getting the attention of others or when becoming impatient (presumably because it was running late). Overall, Trolley was a well-balanced, if not selfishly-driven, automaton with a solid work ethic.
Further, like our smartphones today, Trolley could also access and display pictures from the past. However, as the only mode of transport into the Neighborhood of Make Believe, a land that could only have existed in an alternate universe, Trolley may have also boasted some form of quantum circuitry.
2. Busy Busy World — “Apple Car”
Inventor: Richard Scarry
The first Apple Car will not be created by Apple Inc. as it is already the invention of Richard McClure Scarry in his 1965 book Busy Busy World. How do we know the Apple Car is autonomous when evidence suggests the presense of a steering wheel? While the specifics of the navigation system remain undefined, the car’s primary occupant, Lowly Worm, has no arms or legs, and thus no way to control the car (though it is possible he works a pedal via the shoe at the end of his body). In the image above Lowly is clearly enjoying a free ride. Wondering about the specific functions of the stem and leaf? In How Things Work in Busytown it was revealed the car can also fly like a helicopter. Despite this, we are unable to explain the passenger’s mode of entry and egress due to the apparent total lack of doors.
3. Care Bears — “Cloud Mobile”
Inventors: Linda Denham & Elena Kucharik
Kingdom of Caring inhabitants Tenderheart, Cheer, Share et. al. travelled by means of a mysterious vapor-based vehicle powered wholly by love. The Cloud Mobile was operable in the air or on land and, despite the presense of manual controls (i.e. a steering wheel), the car would come when summoned, demonstrating a high-degree of AI. The eventual demise of the Cloud Mobile may have been hastened by the introduction of the more advanced “Rainbow Roller” which seemingly ran on refracted prismatic light.
4. Speed Buggy — “Speedy”
First appearing September 8, 1973, Speed Buggy was an intelligent fiberglass dune buggy whose AI was so advanced it enabled him to solve crimes. Further, Speedy’s physical dexterity allowed him to dance and sing while up on his hind wheels. Like other vehicles mentioned here, Speedy was equipped with an emotion module that simulated human excitement and affection.
Perhaps most interestingly, Speed Buggy represents the first autonomous vehicle to be hacked by outsiders. Speedy’s weakness, it turned out, was a legacy communicator/remote control built for the first iteration of the Buggy. Though Speedy’s crew most often used the device for communication rather than control, criminal hacker masterminds would occasionally steal or even duplicate the device and manipulate Speedy for their own purposes. Further, Speedy Buggy also provided the only example to date of autonomous two-and-three-wheeled motorcycles, Bike Stuff Wheelie & the Chopper Bunch, who were clearly programmed specifically for evil.
5. Herbie the Love Bug — “Herbie”
Inventor: Gordon Buford/Walt Disney (Bill Walsh & Don DaGradi)
The only live-action example described here, Herbie the Love Bug is a autonomous 1963 Volkswagen Beetle featured in several Walt Disney motion pictures of the 1960’s. He exhibits a strong personality processed via what Buddy Hackett refers to as a “contemplation thing.” Despite his sentience, usage was restricted to winning road races.
His failure to live up to his full potential may explain his wild mood swings, frequent bouts of depression and nearly fatal suicidal ideation. Though of course this may simply be a manifestation of his ‘buggy’ programming. As his name suggests, Herbie the Love Bug is a real ladies’ car, having fallen in love on several occasions, once in 1977 with a Lancia Montecarlo named Giselle (and who can blame him? Just look at that pink interior!). Similarly, in 2005, Herbie revealed his penchant for younger cars when he fell in love with a yellow VW New Beetle, a vehicle 42 years his junior. However, when threatened he has been known to fly into a jealous rage, displaying unbridled, destructive aggression towards other cars, as displayed above.