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At The Engineer we frequently report on research developments in the field of enhanced vehicle autonomy and ’driverless’ cars. Certainly, the technology has come a long way and there have been several high-profile road tests, such as BMW’s recent driverless high-speed autobahn jaunt from Munich to Nuremburg.

Promising though these developments are, the industry and the vast majority of consumers are a rather conservative lot and generally don’t like relinquishing control.

Evidence for this can be found in our 29 November 1929 issue, which reported on one of the first successfully tested automatic transmission systems. Of particular interest is the first paragraph, which denounces the inadequacies of a driving system that is still used by more than 80 per cent of British drivers.

“The driver has nothing to attend to but a single foot pedal”

’The ordinary mechanism for the control of a motor car leaves much to be desired in the matter of simplicity. Apart from steering, the driver has two pedals to operate and must make frequent recourse to a change-speed lever, the manipulation of which has to be skilfully performed in conjunction with the pedal movements.’

The solution to this was the ’Spotan Gear’, an invention of Swedish engineer Frederik Ljungström, formerly a designer of the turbine locomotives.

’Except for the steering wheel and the emergency hand brake required by law, the driver has nothing to attend to but a single pedal. By the mere depression of this pedal, which has no sideways, or other unusual movements to perform, the brakes are released, the clutch engaged, the engine accelerated and the gear ratio changed automatically. Speed is controlled simply by the pressure on the pedal.’

This was all done mechanically with a system as complex as it is impressive. Nevertheless, if history has taught us anything, it’s that capability and will are different things. I don’t expect we’ll be seeing driverless cars on public roads for a good few years yet.

Archive feature: Automatic transmission is a question of control

At The Engineer we frequently report on research developments in the field of enhanced vehicle autonomy and ’driverless’ cars. Certainly, the technology has come a long way and there have been several high-profile road tests, such as BMW’s recent driverless high-speed autobahn jaunt from Munich to Nuremburg.

Promising though these developments are, the industry and the vast majority of consumers are a rather conservative lot and generally don’t like relinquishing control.

Evidence for this can be found in our 29 November 1929 issue, which reported on one of the first successfully tested automatic transmission systems. Of particular interest is the first paragraph, which denounces the inadequacies of a driving system that is still used by more than 80 per cent of British drivers.

“The driver has nothing to attend to but a single foot pedal”

’The ordinary mechanism for the control of a motor car leaves much to be desired in the matter of simplicity. Apart from steering, the driver has two pedals to operate and must make frequent recourse to a change-speed lever, the manipulation of which has to be skilfully performed in conjunction with the pedal movements.’

The solution to this was the ’Spotan Gear’, an invention of Swedish engineer Frederik Ljungström, formerly a designer of the turbine locomotives.

’Except for the steering wheel and the emergency hand brake required by law, the driver has nothing to attend to but a single pedal. By the mere depression of this pedal, which has no sideways, or other unusual movements to perform, the brakes are released, the clutch engaged, the engine accelerated and the gear ratio changed automatically. Speed is controlled simply by the pressure on the pedal.’

This was all done mechanically with a system as complex as it is impressive. Nevertheless, if history has taught us anything, it’s that capability and will are different things. I don’t expect we’ll be seeing driverless cars on public roads for a good few years yet.

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