A brief pop culture history of the autonomous car

Jamie Stevenson
London 51° 30' 23.112" N, -0° 7' 37.956" E" E

With the technology now in place to support the development of driverless cars, what was once considered a dream of the future may soon be a reality. However, countless films, TV shows and books have boasted seemingly prescient depictions of driverless tech. We take a look at some of the most famous examples, from the brilliant to the barmy.

The Batmobile

Bruce Wayne’s favourite toy comes equipped with any number of features that are unlikely to appear on consumer vehicles. Flame throwers, anyone?

That being said, the Batmobile has been known to come equipped with autonomous driving features, as seen in the 1989 Batman film. Yes, almost thirty years ago Batman was making use of a driverless vehicle, and yes, he again proved why he is so much cooler than us.

The above clip shows Batman issuing voice instructions to the Batmobile, before making his escape as the vehicle causes a distraction. While this may seem far fetched, Rolls Royce has recently developed a voice-activated autonomous vehicle which looks suspiciously like the Batmobile. 

The car’s A.I. is named Eleanor, though I’m sure that if you had Bruce Wayne’s deep pockets, you could rechristen it Alfred.

Johnny Cab, Total Recall

Total Recall’s deeply annoying Johnny Cab is an autonomous mode of public transport, with a living taxi driver replaced with a robot named, you guessed it, Johnny.

Again, the hilariously irritating form of A.I. here is voice activated, with Arnie bellowing instructions that it cannot follow, proving that Johnny Cab is a far less suitable vehicle for getaway driving than the Batmobile. As a result, Arnie proceeds to rip the poor robot driver out of his seat and steer the car himself.

Total Recall’s grasp on realism is questionable at best (it includes Arnie disguised as a woman), and its portrayal of driverless vehicles is similarly…interesting. Yet, self-driving taxis are close to reality, with Uber rolling out autonomous cabs in the near future. With this in mind, it’s safe to assume that Johnny Cab would receive a one-star rating.

Minority Report

One of the most oft-used reference points for autonomous cars is the Tom Cruise-starring Minority Report, where he opts for a strange, inverse game of Frogger with said driverless vehicles.

The autonomous cars here run on a road network that appears both ruthlessly efficient and absolutely terrifying. Running on surfaces at every angle, the driverless vehicles in Minority Report again offer voice assistance, and move seamlessly in and out of hugely congested traffic.

What’s portrayed in Minority Report may be a long way away (and frankly, the film can keep the vertical roads), yet some aspects are blurring the lines between science fiction and reality. Only recently, we spoke of the positive impact that autonomous cars may have on traffic flow. Just don’t let Tom Cruise near them.

Demolition Man

Demolition Man is surprisingly prescient, predicting video calling, tablets, and autonomous vehicles. Not bad for a film which mostly features Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes kicking each other in the face.

The cars in Demolition Man can either be self-driven (helpful during a car chase), or turned to Auto Mode, with yet another instance of voice-controlled autonomous vehicles appearing on the list.

 

It appears that, regardless of decade, voice-commands are the pop culture go-to for ‘advanced technology’, and yet again prove that Demolition Man was ahead of its time.

Christine

A great deal more sinister than the previous entrants on this list, Christine is the brainchild of Stephen King and is both driverless and murderous.

The car, a 1958 Plymouth Fury, is able to regenerate itself (a feature that is shockingly unavailable in current autonomous cars), and is able to drive itself without instruction to the location of the bullies who are tormenting its driver.

What happens next is not the for faint of heart, though Christine’s navigational skills are impressive. The car is possessed by the evil spirit of its previous owner, though I’d imagine it would be better adjusted if it was powered by HERE.

What’s your favourite example of autonomous cars in pop culture? If it’s Knight Rider, check out our in-depth look at KITT.

Topics: Automotive, Autonomous cars, Features, Editor's picks, Weekend reads

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