The car industry has seen many big advances with smart technology from cruise control to collision warnings and a world with fully autonomous cars seems on the horizon. Some argue that this is a bad idea and that machines will never replace human drivers when it comes to ethical decision making, however it is getting closer and some expect it to be accomplished in the next decade.
The idea of driverless cars though has been around for decades in the world of film and television. Some have been good, some have been troubling, but all have inspired others to work towards turning fiction into reality. Here are 8 examples of autonomous vehicles in film & TV.
1. The Love Bug (1968)
Perhaps everyone’s favourite VW Beetle, Herbie first hit cinemas in ‘The Love Bug’ in 1968. However, rather than clever technology, it was Disney magic that allowed Herbie to drive by itself, as well as possess the power of sentience giving it real feelings and emotions resulting in a deep connection to racing driver Jim Douglas. So popular was the character that five follow up movies were made starting in 1974 and ending with Lindsay Lohan’s Herbie: Fully Loaded in 2005.
Sentience is often linked to AI and is very important when it comes to potentially-dangerous car tech. If faced with an unavoidable crash with one of two separate children, which should an AI car steer towards? These are the kinds of ethical questions that driverless car manufacturers continue to fight with to this day.1
2. Knight Rider TV Series (1982-86)
Another car with plenty of personality, Knight Industries Two Thousand, more commonly known as KITT was the sidekick of Michael Knight in the popular TV series Knight Rider which ran for four series in the mid-80s and resulted in several spinoffs and movies. As well as the ability to drive itself it would regularly converse with co-star David Hasselhoff long before Siri arrived and came loaded with seemingly any weaponry and protection needed for any situation.
3. Christine (1983)
From the mind that gave us The Shining, Cujo and Misery, the 1983 movie Christine is the adaptation of the book of the same name by Stephen King and revolves around the possessed 1953 Plymouth Fury out for revenge on those who misuse or treat cars wrongly. Locking and unlocking its doors at will, driving itself and with the ability to regenerate itself, Christine reaped havoc on any owner it disliked causing many deaths in the process. Although, in the right hands, these abilities could be highly useful for any careful driver.
4. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Also from the mind of Stephen King, although not as memorable even with King taking the role of director. Based on his novel ‘Trucks’, several inanimate objects begin to come to life and cause chaos around the United States killing several people. Petrol pumps, knives, arcade machines and, as the book title suggests, trucks and other automobiles go out of control and attempt to run down, crush and otherwise destroy mankind. Sadly, it was not as big a success as Christine and it turned to also be King’s last director job.
5. Total Recall (1990)
Moving away from evil automobiles, 1990’s hit Total Recall appears to have inspired Uber’s business model nearly 20 years before its launch in 2009. The box office smash depicted the illusionary intersection of reality, imagination, espionage, and science fiction and started Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone.
Although for fans of autonomous cars, the real star of the show was the now infamous Johnny Cab, the automated taxi driver/car dressed in a 1950’s style chauffeur outfit who fully controls his car and ushers Arnold around for the majority of the film.
6. Demolition Man (1993)
Sylvester Stallone. Wesley Snipes. Two men known well adverse to weapons and hand-to-hard combat, playing a cop and criminal respectively find themselves in a utopian 2032 with no real police force and cars created to prevent drivers from driving recklessly, road rage and even swearing, while also containing an ‘Auto Mode’ and responding to voice commands.
7. Timecop (1994)
Jean Claude Van Damme’s Timecop was released in 1994 and was set ten years in the future. Sadly the mass influx of modern, autonomous mechanization didn’t hit the world stage in 2004 as predicted, however, much like Demolition man, the self-driving cars of Time Cop offered up their own unique futuristic features- like voice activation, which today with Siri, Google and Alexa has become a big part of our lives. 2
8. Minority Report (2002)
Set in 2054, Minority Report explores the themes of free will and determinism in a world where crimes are predicted and halted before they even happen. In the film, the aptly-named Lexus 2054 is part of a networked transit system that encompasses all cars on the road. With a colour-changing paint job, the Lexus features works as an autonomous car with a manual-override system allowing the driver to take back control of the vehicle, seemingly a good compromise to share duty between human and machine.1
From these examples, the theory behind a truly autonomous vehicle is indeed a possibility and though some are over exaggerations or daunting visuals, with the advances that many manufacturers and pioneers have made in a short space of time, the future does look promising that this will indeed become a reality in the near future.