Watch General Motors' Hilarious 1956 Movie on Smart Roads

They figured that by 1976 we'd be driving jet-powered cars guided by glass-towered traffic controllers

1 min read
Watch General Motors' Hilarious 1956 Movie on Smart Roads
Image: King Rose Archives/GM

It’s as fun to laugh at yesterday’s futurism as it is sobering, for today’s futurism may also become the butt of jokes. Take the 1956 GM promotional movie first screened at Motorama, a company show that traveled among major cities throughout the United States.

The too-corny movie was displayed yesterday during a talk by Prof. Alain Kornhauser, director of the transportation program at Princeton University, at RoboUniverse, itself a world-traveling trade show, now visiting New York City. Kornhauser said the footage perfectly illustrates one of the two strands of thought in self-driving cars—the one in which the road does the thinking.

A 1950s family is stuck in traffic and near the 1:50 mark, the teenage son thinks out loud about how driving might be like in another 20 years. Boom! The family’s old Firebird becomes a dual gas turbine-powered speed demon, its driver in quasi-military style radio communication with an “Autoway Safety Authority,” personified by a uniformed director in a glassed-in tower. 

Take a look:

That it all happens to crowds of similarly choreographed cars threading through cloverleaf interchanges in the middle of a desert, complete with rocky prominences straight of a Roadrunner cartoon, is icing on the cake.

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Self-Driving Cars Work Better With Smart Roads

Intelligent infrastructure makes autonomous driving safer and less expensive

9 min read
A photograph shows a single car headed toward the viewer on the rightmost lane of a three-lane road that is bounded by grassy parkways, one side of which is planted with trees. In the foreground a black vertical pole is topped by a crossbeam bearing various instruments. 

This test unit, in a suburb of Shanghai, detects and tracks traffic merging from a side road onto a major road, using a camera, a lidar, a radar, a communication unit, and a computer.

Shaoshan Liu

Enormous efforts have been made in the past two decades to create a car that can use sensors and artificial intelligence to model its environment and plot a safe driving path. Yet even today the technology works well only in areas like campuses, which have limited roads to map and minimal traffic to master. It still can’t manage busy, unfamiliar, or unpredictable roads. For now, at least, there is only so much sensory power and intelligence that can go into a car.

To solve this problem, we must turn it around: We must put more of the smarts into the infrastructure—we must make the road smart.

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