Change is constant, and thank goodness it is. Thanks to constant developments in the automotive field, drivers today enjoy a litany of electronic advances that make a car trip so much more than it used to be.

What kind of car gadgets do we have to thank for the self-driving cars of today? Before electric cars, what kind of automotive advancements changed the way our grandparents got around town? Let’s time travel back to the days of yonder and see just how we got to the era of autonomous cars.

car audio system

I heard it on my radio

1955 saw the first of the most notable advancements in automotive electronic gadgetry. Chrysler and Philco worked together to bring music to the cars our grandparents used to drive. The earliest car-bound radio was the tubeless Mopar Model 914HR. Compared to the radios of old, this radio was compact – roughly the size of a traybake at 13 x 3 x 8 inches. The twelfth transistor making up the radio had the potential to serve as an in-car record player, too, paving the road for CD players and music on demand.

Nowadays, we can’t imagine driving anywhere without a Bluetooth connection and a Spotify playlist on loop. The Mopar Model 914HR and transistor radio made listening to music in the car an attainable, enjoyable experience for the first time. No wonder drivers used to enjoy cruising so much – it was an opportunity to listen to music with friends as much as it was a chance to go somewhere new.

car electronics

Sparking the electronic ignition

Not all electronic developments in the automotive industry were quite as fun as that of the radio. Pontiac was quick to follow up on Chrysler’s advancement with the creation of the electronic ignition in 1963. Why was this important? Because, prior to the electronic ignition, cars utilised breaker points to operate their engines. The release of the Delcotronic meant that cars could instead rely on ignitions triggered by magnetic pulses.

It wasn’t Pontiac who pushed the electronic ignition to popularity, though. Instead, the product was picked up by Hyland Electronics. When the new ignition became available commercially, drivers and manufacturers forewent the ignitions of old in favour of the Delcotronic’s simpler design and its lessened friction.

It wasn’t just the automotive industry that benefited from the invention of the electronic ignition. While we experiment with brand new ways to reduce the amount of friction are cars are under nowadays, lawnmowers and trimmers still take advantage of Pontiac’s initial ignition designs.

anti-lock brakes

Anti-lock brakes

Nearly a decade after the electric ignition, automobile manufacturers realised that if cars were going to get faster, their brakes needed to be more efficient. Enter the anti-lock brake. Once again, Chrysler led the charge towards this automotive advancement. 1971 saw the company partner with Bendix Corporation to take a car’s braking power to the computer.

Sure Brake, the first computerised, all-wheel ABS debuted alongside the 1971 Imperial. It wasn’t alone, though. At the same time, the world saw:

  • Ford’s Sure-Track
  • General Motors’ Trackmaster
  • Toyota’s anti-skid brakes

Everyone was thinking the same thing: cars’ brakes needed to work more efficiently to keep up with their drivers’ speed. These developments all stemmed from that need and from the same basic design. Instead of relying on standard math to control the braking of a car’s wheels, the computerisation behind anti-lock brakes would monitor the rotation of a car’s wheels to detect whether or not the brakes stopped rotates in time with one another or at all.

GPS system

GPS systems

Despite what many drivers may think, GPS didn’t debut in the 2010s. Instead, its first iteration appeared in 1983. President Reagan, after an international accident caused due to missed directions, debuted the technology without the interference of a corporation. Within seven years, Mazda had integrated it into its Euno Cosmo.

These early GPS systems laid the groundwork for the ones in our phones today, though they worked more broadly at the time. 1991 saw Garmin using handheld GPS systems in their cars which, if looked at from the perspective of a technological evolutionist, would look distantly similar to the iPhones many of us use today.

Backup cameras

As we move into an era of autonomous driving, the backup camera remains our dearest electronic gadget. Why? Because these cameras allow us – and our cars – to detect the obstacles behind and around us. Without them, self-driving cars wouldn’t be able to keep us safe on the road.

backup camera

This essential technology came to the automotive industry in 1991. Originally, it was only available through Toyota Soarers operating in Japan. The Soarer utilised a CCD camera to project images of any rear-traffic or obstacles to the person in the driver’s seat.

This technology made its way to the United States in 2002 courtesy of Nissan’s RearView Monitor. Nowadays, any car made within the current model year must have a backup camera, or else it violates the safety legislation put out by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

We’ve come a long way from the invention of the radio, but you can still trace the evolution of automotive technologies to better understand how we got to where we are. What will the future of electronics in our vehicles look like? We can make some guesses now, but only time will tell what inventions await our future selves.