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Robocar Movie From Pre-Talkie Days

The most amazing prediction was that of legal roadblocks

2 min read
The Automatic Motorist
Photo: The Automatic Motorist

This short silent movie, called “The Automatic Motorist,” imagines an old-timey car, running boards and all, being driven by a robot chauffeur. And the film came out in 1911, apparently providing the first sustained vision of our robocar future.

Of course, robocars are still in our future, 106 years later.  

The clinking, clanking humanoid is much like the Tin Man, but with a temper. And as in our own day, the first roadblock to its progress is the law, which here takes the form of a preening policeman. 

Cineastes had long known of this little bauble, but I must tip my hat to Atlas Obscura, which unearthed it just a few days ago.

Like countless sci-fi movies yet to come, the plot was framed around the available special effects, not the other way around. Like many films that were to follow, it is a nearly point-by-point remake of a movie done five years before, by the same director. The main innovation is the robotic chauffeur.

Some 13 years before this movie came out, Nikola Tesla patented a remote-control system for vehicles—drones of sea and land, as it were. He predicted they would make war so dreadful as to be unthinkable, thus paving the way to universal peace. Two years after the movie’s release, H. G. Wells wrote a rather more pessimistic novel about the coming of nuclear weapons and the collapse of civilization.

The car fulfills a clutch of motorhead fantasies beyond robotic drive. It serves as an airplane, rocket ship, boat, and submarine, going first to London, then the moon, and finally Saturn. At that far flung stop, the car’s occupants—notably a newlywed couple—meet extraterrestrials who look like Munchkins, but with spears.

Hmmm. Could “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), with its Tin Man and Munchkins, have been cribbed from Mr. Booth? No, of course not—when moviemakers steal, they call it homage.

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How Ted Hoff Invented the First Microprocessor

Hoff thought designing 12 custom chips for a calculator was crazy, so he created the Intel 4004

14 min read
How Ted Hoff Invented the First Microprocessor

The rays of the rising sun have barely reached the foothills of Silicon Valley, but Marcian E. (Ted) Hoff Jr. is already up to his elbows in electronic parts, digging through stacks of dusty circuit boards. This is the monthly flea market at Foothill College, and he rarely misses it.

Ted Hoff is part of electronics industry legend. While a research manager at Intel Corp., then based in Mountain View, he realized that silicon technology had advanced to the point that, with careful engineering, a complete central processor could fit on a chip. Teaming up with Stanley Mazor and Federico Faggin, he created the first commercial microprocessor, the Intel 4004.

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