Predictions about driverless cars became incredibly popular in the 1950s and 60s. But the idea is nearly as old as the automobile itself. One example? This short film from 1911, featuring a robot chauffeur.
The word “robot” wasn’t even invented until the 1920s, but the mechanical man in this film followed in the tradition of other early 20th century robots, sitting in for human servants wherever help was needed.
Titled “The Automatic Motorist,” the silent film was directed by British director Walter R. Booth and uploaded to YouTube by the British Film Institute (BFI). The film is believed to have been a “remake” of sorts of a 1906 film which is lost to history. The 1911 version starts out with a newlywed couple being taken for a ride by a robot driver and its inventor.
The short comedy film quickly takes a turn for the absurd as the car begins driving over buildings and makes its way to a distant planet. There are even aliens on that planet, of course. And, well, let’s just say it gets even more ridiculous from there.
It’s sad that the 1906 version is lost, but we can speculate that it didn’t have a robot driver. In the five years between the two films one can imagine that the technological advancement of the automobile was feeling as rapid as ever. Humans always feel like “the future” is happening too quickly for them. It’s so easy for us to forget that people at the turn of the 20th century were feeling much the same way. And with good reason.
This was the generation that was witnessing everything from the rise of electricity in the home to powered flight, to say nothing of cars. Why wouldn’t a robot chauffeur be just around the corner?