The Henry Ford in Dearborn Acquires One of GM’s First Self-driving Test Cars

The Henry Ford in Dearborn has acquired one of General Motors Co.’s first self-driving test vehicles for its Driving America exhibit in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
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The Henry Ford
One of GM’s first self-driving test vehicles is now part of The Henry Ford’s collection. // Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford in Dearborn has acquired one of General Motors Co.’s first self-driving test vehicles for its Driving America exhibit in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

It was one of GM’s first to operate on public roads autonomously, debuting on the streets of San Francisco in 2016. It is the first autonomous car to be added to the museum’s collection.

“Self-driving capabilities will fundamentally change our relationship with the automobile,” says Patricia Mooradian, president and CEO of The Henry Ford. “As the home of the historic vehicles that have shaped that relationship today, this acquisition is paramount in how we tell that story in the future.”

The test vehicle is a modified pre-production Chevrolet Bolt EV and was developed in collaboration with Cruise Automation, a software startup acquired by GM in 2016. It has cameras, radar and LIDAR sensors, and an on-board computer, allowing the vehicle to observe the world around it and make near real-time decisions. By the summer of 2016, more than 40 of the test vehicles were on the streets of San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz.

“Autonomous vehicles will change people’s lives forever, just as the automobile itself did more than 100 years ago,” says Mark Reuss, president of GM. “The Henry Ford is a treasured institution where past and present innovations are documented and displayed, and GM is proud to provide our autonomous test vehicle to serve as an inspiration to the innovators of tomorrow.”

The first serious experiments for self-driving cars date as far back as the mid-1920s. GM’s Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair imagined automated highways guiding cars by radio control. In the 1950s, GM and RCA built a section of test road equipped with electromagnetic circuits to control vehicles along the route. GM and Cruise Automation are now working on the Cruise AV, the first production-intent self-driving car without manual controls of any kind. It is expected to be introduced this year.

“The self-driving vehicle is the most fundamental shift in what a car should be since the Model T turned the automobile into an everyday item,” says Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford. “While this first-generation test vehicle was quickly followed by more advanced versions, it made a bold statement that a major auto manufacturer was ready to move quickly on making self-driving cars a reality.”

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