It’s a sophisticated new take on a fifty-year-old concern. The Science Museum has a 1960 Citroen DS19 car modified by the Road Research Laboratory (RRL – now Transport Research Laboratory) to be automatically controlled. You’ll be able to see it, along with lots of other cool stuff, in our Wroughton storage facility during the Festival of Innovation on 12 and 13 September.
The RRL chose this Citroen because it is revolutionary hydraulic steering, braking, and accelerator system lent itself very well to automation. An electric cable buried in a test track in Berkshire was fed with a high-frequency signal, picked up by sensors in the car, telling the control systems what to do.
Apparently, the car was pleased traveling at 80mph, even around curves, and one RRL report outlines a glittering future where, by 2010, all vehicles on all major UK roads would be automated. Following the 1960 tests on the 2.5-mile RRL track, the engineers laid a 9-mile control cable under the new M4 near Reading to carry out longer trials. It was abandoned once the M4 opened to public traffic, but I wonder if it’s still there, buried and forgotten?
The reports did recognize that human factors, not technology, would limit motor car automation. We routinely trust autopilots in our airliners, and we use sat-nav and parking sensors daily, but hands-off driving is still a long way down the road.