Autonomous-vehicle technology might seem like 21st-century stuff, but “self-driving” cars as a concept have a history that goes back almost as far as the car itself, from the driverless “phantom auto” making headlines in the 1920s to General Motors’ “no-hold steering” of its Firebird prototypes in the 1950s.
Despite decades of experimentation—and as more and more self-driving Teslas and Ubers hit the roads—it’s such a departure from how we think about driving that most people are still afraid of riding in one.
That’s why watching this video of a Bosch self-driving vehicle test from 1993 feels like a relic resurrected from an alternative timeline. The company equipped a bright green Mercedes-Benz 410 with electronic control of steering, throttle, brakes, and transmission, in an attempt to showcase its self-navigation technologies.
On closed roads around the city of Hildesheim, Germany, a man casually reads a book behind the wheel while the van drives itself down the road at speeds of up to 55 mph. We also get a view of cameras using machine vision to navigate the road and stay within the lines.
Bosch details more of the project’s goals in the video description: “With a target given, this car could find the best route to it, including intra-urban traffic... Video sensors detected the road situation, and the real-time information was processed by an onboard computer in order to take a decision about speed or direction.”
According to a retrospective by the company, it never planned to develop the self-driving van beyond these closed tests. It’s a shame, because I would rather bomb around in a lime green diesel transporter than a high-maintenance Tesla any day.