January 11, 2016
Automobiles have a long and interesting history full of competing ideas starting in the 1300s. Many people have vivid memories of the Space Race during the Cold War, but automobiles have been around so long there is no first hand knowledge of inception, only secondary sources. However, that does not detract from the intrigue, especially now that we are seeing the dawn of Autonomous Autos. The history of the automobile has long and eclectic history. Their story dates back to the Renaissance, and like the Renaissance, it started in Italy. The first propulsion source was actually the wind. Guido da Vigevano designed a windmill inspired automobile that channeled Aeolian force through gears to wheels. Leonardo da Vinci designed his own automobile in the 15th Century. He designed quite a few modes of transport during this time. The most popular were likely his flying machines, the Airscrew, and Ornithopter. However, he also designed an armoured vehicle, and a self propelled cart. The Cart had a clock based propulsion design. It was also capable of braking and tiller steering, and even had a rear differential. Throughout the 18th century there were many attempts to create a working steam powered automobile. In spite of many attempts, the only model to make any serious impact was one of a French construction. It was designed to transport cannons across the country. While it did indeed serve its function; it was not able to do so without a cannon in the rear; without the cannon counterweight it would tip over. It was not until the 19th century that the automotive movement gained any traction. A Scottish electric vehicle was constructed sometime between 1832 and 1839, but it was of a crude design and therefore did not last. In 1876, George Baldwin Selden patented the first automobile design, but never made one, he only collected royalties. In either 1885 or 86, Karl Benz was attributed the title of the first true automobile (Motorized tricycle) inventor. A year or less later, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach made one with four wheels. The Duryea brothers (Charles and Frank) made a car in 1893. They were the first to make a production car, their American factory began production in 1896. The next major improvement in automotive history was Henry Ford’s mass production. Before him cars were only for the wealthy, only those with means could replace their carriages with an electric or internal combustion engines. This lead to the shootout of the next few decades, improvements were a dime a dozen and car companies rose and fell. A few automakers are responsible for firsts; like the Henry Seagrave piloted Sunbeam 1000 hp being the first to reach 200 miles per hour, but no company actually revolutionized anything. It was not until two tech companies came in and really disrupted the course of automobile technology, finally new history will be made. Tesla Motors came in and proved that cars should skew towards electric and Google proved that automobiles could feasibly drive themselves. Now even a spunky hacker with $50,000 could make an autonomous auto (the Hackermobile). It will not be long before chauffeurs are merely cameras paired with a couple tens of thousands of lines of code.