Our new limited-engagement exhibit, Collecting Mobility: New Objects, New Stories, opening to the public October 23, 2021, takes you behind the scenes at The Henry Ford to show you how we continue to grow our vast collection of more than 26 million artifacts. One key question the exhibit asks is why we collect the items we collect. To get more insight on the artifacts on exhibit and future trends that may impact our collecting, we reached out to several of our partners. In this post from that series, our friends at Hagerty tackle questions about trends in mobility and in car collecting—both today and tomorrow.
What aspect of mobility history (artifacts, topics, or themes) preserved at The Henry Ford feels the most significant in the current moment?
The Henry Ford’s amazing collection of self-propelled transportation machinery ranges from the diminutive 1896 Ford Quadricycle runabout that weighs just 500 pounds with an engine making four horsepower, to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s gargantuan 1941 Allegheny steam locomotive weighing in at an unimaginable 1.2 million pounds and making 7,500 horsepower.
Of all these, however, the most powerful is an unassuming lime, white, and gold bus that powered the country out of its dark past of segregation into a future where laws would not discriminate against the nation’s citizens simply on the color of their skin. Especially when viewed through the prism of current events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the 1948 General Motors (GM) bus where Rosa Parks made her stand against racial discrimination by sitting down is the most significant piece of mobility history in The Henry Ford’s collection.
The Rosa Parks Bus, on exhibit in With Liberty and Justice for All in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, is Hagerty’s pick for the most significant artifact from The Henry Ford’s collections in the current moment. / THF14922
What cars are popular with collectors right now that might eventually make their way into museum collections?
Definitely include the Tesla Roadster as the start of an incredible story about Elon Musk. It’s also the first vehicle to make electrics cool. The McLaren P1 hybrid supercar was important for establishing electrification as a must-have feature in the supercar class, making every other supercar seem outdated. Any current Formula One car, as their complex hybrid powerplants are achieving formerly unheard-of efficiency rates of over 50 percent, which is the future of the internal combustion engine … assuming it has a future. The Chevy Bolt will be remembered as the turning point for General Motors’ reputation and the industry as a whole, transforming GM from the company that notoriously “killed the electric car” (the EV1) to one of the technology’s chief proponents. The same holds true for a Volkswagen diesel, circa 2010—an enormously influential moment in which the world’s largest automaker was forced by its own actions to pivot to fully embracing electric tech, thus spurring the industry as a whole to commit to electrification.
One of Hagerty’s suggestions for cars that might make their way into museum collections is a Tesla Roadster—like this one, photographed in 2008 and owned by Elon Musk himself (photographed by Michelle Andonian). / THF55832
Are there vehicle(s), innovator stories, or mobility technologies you think The Henry Ford should add to its collections right now? Why?
An early fuel-cell vehicle, either a Honda Clarity or Toyota Mirai or Hyundai Tucson FCEV, would represent how the industry has placed bets on various technologies—and how at that moment in time, it wasn’t clear which would win out (one could debate whether it is clear even now). Obviously, a Tesla Model S with autopilot tells the story of Silicon Valley’s attempt to disrupt the auto industry through fast-paced innovation common in big tech, but unknown in the historically cautious and slow-moving auto industry. A retired Waymo or GM Cruise taxi studded with LiDAR sensors would be an example of the first attempts to commercialize autonomous vehicles.
What mobility artifacts, innovator stories, or technologies do you think The Henry Ford will be collecting in 10 years? 50 years? 100 years?
Batteries are the new frontier, as are electric motors—and the relentless drive for efficiency in both. Nothing else defines this era so aptly. Also, semiconductor manufacturing. We have seen how beholden the industry is to a component that wasn’t even used in cars just a few decades ago. The cars of today and tomorrow are just the boxes that computers come in; every automaker is turning itself into a tech company whose primary competitive advantage will be in software.
By 1990, computer engine controls were nearly universal on American automobiles. This GM computer module controlled a gasoline engine's ignition firing sequence. Hagerty notes that “The cars of today and tomorrow are just the boxes that computers come in.” / THF109463
Aluminum construction is important, too. The 2015 Ford F-150, the first aluminum-body truck, is a watershed moment for aluminum in high-volume vehicles. It is an open question now whether aluminum will spread beyond that experiment, but no automaker has made such a high-stakes gamble as Ford with the F-150. New materials and manufacturing methods are coming as the battle to reduce weight continues into the electrification era.
What aspects of mobility is Hagerty paying the most attention to right now?
The act of getting behind the wheel, twisting the key, and hitting the road is an act of personal freedom, and we believe anyone and everyone who wants to experience that should be able to. Our longstanding Hagerty Driving Experience has put thousands of young people all over North America behind the wheels of classic cars, alongside passionate owners, to teach the basics of operating a manual transmission. Through the nonprofit Hagerty Drivers Foundation, we launched the “License to the Future” program, which provides financial assistance to kids ages 14–18 to cover the expense of driver’s training. And the Hagerty Driving Academy partners with Skip Barber Racing School at dozens of events around the country to teach safe, proficient driving skills in a variety of situations.
Ensuring young people have access to driver training is important. In this 1940 photo, a young man takes a driver’s test as part of the Ford Motor Company Good Drivers League at the New York World’s Fair. / THF216125
We also regularly report on developments taking place in the realm of autonomous vehicles as a trusted voice to assure our members that this beloved activity that connects us—driving—is under no threat from the far-off future.
Will the future make owning classic vehicles more difficult or less difficult? Servicing older vehicles is already becoming harder, due to shortages in knowledge and parts, but will new technologies such as 3D printing or electric conversion mean that older vehicles will have new lives and relevance in the future?
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford. Aaron Robinson is Editor-at-Large, Kirk Seaman is Senior Editor, and Stefan Lombard is Executive Editor at Hagerty. Hagerty is an automotive enthusiast brand and the world's largest membership organization for car lovers everywhere. See Collecting Mobility for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from October 23, 2021, through January 2, 2022.
Our new limited-engagement exhibit, Collecting Mobility: New Objects, New Stories, opening to the public October 23, 2021, takes you behind the scenes at The Henry Ford to show you how we continue to grow our vast collection of more than 26 million artifacts. One key question the exhibit asks is why we collect the items we collect. To get more insight on the artifacts on exhibit and future trends that may impact our collecting, we reached out to several of our partners. In this post from that series, our friends at General Motors (GM), donors of the General Motors first-generation self-driving test vehicle in the exhibit and contributors to our Driven to Win: Racing in Americaexhibit, tackle questions about autonomous vehicles (AVs), electric vehicles (EVs), and racing.
Our latest permanent exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America, is presented by General Motors. How has GM’s racing program evolved over time?
GM’s Chevrolet and Cadillac brands have both had long, storied histories in motorsports. Racing is a fundamental part of what we do—from transferring technology learned on the track to help us build better vehicles to connecting with consumers through something they love.
Racing driver Louis Chevrolet co-founded GM’s Chevrolet brand with William C. Durant in 1911. / THF277330
Chevrolet has been successful in professional motorsports in the United States and around the globe, capturing many manufacturer, driver, and team championships in NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, and the NHRA. From stock cars to advanced prototypes, Cadillac Racing has a rich history—more than half a century—of racing around the world and around the clock on some of the world’s notably challenging circuits.
Off the track, our racing programs have evolved with the help of our GM facilities. In 2016, General Motors opened the doors to the all-new GM Powertrain Performance and Racing Center—a state-of-the-art facility designed to enhance the development processes for the company’s diverse racing engine programs.
In 2021, General Motors broke ground on the new Charlotte Technical Center, a 130,000-square-foot facility that will expand GM’s performance and racing capabilities. The facility is a $45 million investment for GM and it will be a strong hub for the racing and production engineering teams to collaborate, share resources, and learn together, delivering better results more quickly, both on the racetrack and in our production vehicles.
The Chevrolet Corvette has a long, proud history in professional and amateur sports car racing. This pair of Corvettes is seen at a Sports Car Club of America race in Maryland in 1959. / THF135778
Engineering has become incredibly advanced over time, and leveraging tools between racing and production has become extremely important. We use tools like computational fluid dynamic models, which uses applied mathematics, physics, and computational software to visualize how a gas or liquid flows. These CFD models help us predict things like powertrain performance and aerodynamics.
Also, our Driver-in-the-Loop simulator allows us to test vehicles on courses virtually. It is the combination of two technologies: a real-time computer (with vehicle hardware) and a driving simulator. The driving simulator allows our development engineers to drive and test the real-time computer simulation and added hardware system on a virtual track, just like they would a physical prototype. The simulator was used extensively during the development of the mid-engine Corvette C8.R race car.
The 2001 C5-R Corvette is currently on loan from General Motors and can be seen by guests inside Driven to Win: Racing in America. Why was this vehicle selected to go on display inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation?
The Corvette C5-R made its debut in 1999 at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and was a fixture of global GT racing for the next five years. From 1999–2004, Corvette Racing and the C5-R set the standard for racing success with 31 victories in the American Le Mans Series, along with an overall victory at the Rolex 24 in 2001.
During six years of competition, Corvette Racing—the first factory-backed Corvette team in the car’s history—led the C5.R to an overall victory at the Daytona 24-hour race and three 1-2 finishes in the GTS class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. During the 2004 season, Corvette Racing won every race the team entered and captured every pole position in the American Le Mans Series.
2001 C5-R Corvette, on loan from General Motors Heritage Center and currently on exhibit in Driven to Win: Racing in America in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / THF185966
This specific car raced 17 times from August 2000 through June 2002 with 10 wins. It brought home the first win for the factory Corvette Racing program—Texas 2000 in the ALMS’ GTS class. Then it went on to become 2001 overall winner at Rolex 24, which was quite an accomplishment for a GT car. The car went on to win its class at Le Mans 24 in both 2001 and 2002. The modern era of Corvette’s factory racing program continues today, after over 20 years and 4 generations (C5/C6/C7/C8).
The success of this C5-R essentially started it all and we are proud to have it on display.
This vehicle represents a huge step forward on the journey to fully autonomous driving. With Cruise, our majority-owned subsidiary, we’re determined to commercialize safe, autonomous, and electric vehicles on our way to a driverless future—one with zero crashes.
General Motors tested a series of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, California, and Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2016. These cars used a combination of cameras, radar and lidar sensors, cellular and GPS antennas, and powerful computers to drive themselves on public streets in both cities. GM donated this one, now on exhibit in Driving America in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, to The Henry Ford in 2018. / THF173551
Cruise was the first AV company permitted to give rides to the public in its current driverless vehicles in the San Francisco area. Expansion of our real-world test fleet will help ensure that our self-driving vehicles meet the same strict standards for safety and quality that we build into all of our vehicles.
GM became the first company to assemble self-driving test vehicles in a mass-production facility when its next generation of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV test vehicles began rolling off of the line at Orion Township, Michigan, in January 2017.
The self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs feature an array of equipment, including LIDAR, cameras, sensors, and other hardware designed to accelerate development of a safe and reliable fully autonomous vehicle.
Reshaping cities and the lives of those who live in them has tremendous societal implications. Since we believe that all AVs will be EVs, these efforts will clearly advance our vision of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion, and help us build a more sustainable and accessible world.
This vehicle was really the first of its kind and its display is a sneak peek at the future of autonomy.
By 2025, General Motors plans to offer more than 30 electric vehicles globally. What does an all-electric future look like for Generation E?
For electric vehicles to make an impact, we need consumers to embrace them in mass numbers. So earlier this year, General Motors introduced the world to EVerybody In.
This is our brand commitment toward advancing a world with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion. EVerybody In is more than a brand campaign, it's a global call to action for everybody to join us on the road to an all-electric future.
GM introduced the EV1 in 1997. It was among the most sophisticated electric cars built during the 20th century. / THF91060
GM wants to put everyone in an EV. Thanks to Ultium, our EV architecture, GM is able to reimagine the vehicles it produces today as electric vehicles with equivalent power, excellent range, and a manufacturing cost different that is expected to diminish as EV production increases.
Not only will our EVs be fun to drive and cost less to own, they will also provide an outstanding customer experience. This is how we will encourage and inspire mass consumer adoption of EVs. GM has the technology, talent, scale, and manufacturing expertise to do it.
The all-electric future we are creating goes beyond our vehicles, it is inspiring us to do even more to help mitigate the effects of climate change. We plan to source 100 percent renewable energy to power our U.S. sites by 2025, and to become carbon neutral in our global vehicles and operations by 2040.
General Motors wants to impact society in a positive way and these are some of the steps we are taking to make it happen.
General Motors is committed to electrification—what types of current EV projects from the company might we expect to see in the museums of tomorrow?
With more than 30 EVs being introduced by 2025, we have a lot of exciting vehicles coming. From sedans, to trucks, to full-size SUVs, we will have a wide range of offerings in terms of size and design.
We are entering an inflection point in the transportation industry, a transformation the industry has not seen in decades—the mass adoption of electric vehicles. The first of any of these entries will be a sight to see in the museums of tomorrow for generations to come.
Lish Dorset is Marketing Manager, Non-Admission Products, at The Henry Ford. Todd Christensen is Strategy and Operations Manager, Chevrolet Motorsports Marketing & Activation, and Gina Peera is Corporate Strategy and Executive Communications at General Motors. General Motors is a global automotive manufacturer, driving the world forward with the goal to deliver world-class customer experiences at every touchpoint and doing so on a foundation of trust and transparency. See Collecting Mobility for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from October 23, 2021, through January 2, 2022.
Our cars are increasingly "connected," whether for navigation, communication, or entertainment. What challenges does this pose for our current infrastructure, and what improvements are most urgently needed to keep pace with technology?
First, the balance between data-sharing and privacy. The Michigan Department of Transportation leads all our efforts with safety first. Our agency looks to find opportunities to solve modern traffic challenges as cars become increasingly connected with technology that meets the need for navigation, communication, and/or entertainment.
Due to today’s connectivity, MDOT has the means to share data and asset information relevant to roadway users—for example, wrong-way driving alerts and information directly connected to infrastructure, vehicles, and other devices. But as more consumers purchase connected vehicles, there are increased opportunities for exploitation by hackers using cellular networks and/or wi-fi. Therefore, software vulnerabilities, privacy, and other cybersecurity concerns must be addressed as quickly as the technology progresses.
Early standalone consumer GPS units, like this 1998 Garmin “Personal Navigator” system, had limited or no integration with the rest of a car. As vehicles become increasingly connected, potential safety and security concerns increase too. / THF150113
Second, leaving room for solutions, opportunities, and collaboration. It is imperative to remain technology-agnostic and interoperability is critical. Today’s vehicles meet many needs and should be able to work with many devices and operating systems.
A recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reallocate a portion of the radio spectrum from public safety to commercial use has been the most significant impact to date. This introduces the potential of not having enough spectrum to operate the technology to improve safety and mobility. Continued collaboration with other governmental agencies, private companies, and academia leads to a safer, better user experience for motorists.
Challenges in allocating limited radio spectrum frequencies aren’t new. In 1977, at the height of the CB radio craze, the FCC yielded to popular demand by expanding the number of citizens band channels from 23 to 40. / THF106547
The increase in connectivity between vehicles challenges our current infrastructure because infrastructure upgrades are not able to happen as quickly as the vehicle technology is advancing. First, we need to make sure our current infrastructure is maintained and suitable for the vehicles we do have on the roads. The next improvements would be continuing to implement vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology on our roadways, and to explore connected infrastructure projects, such as a public-private partnership to establish and manage a connected roadway corridor.
Navigation apps like Waze leverage user data and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to provide real-time updates, helping drivers avoid construction and other traffic congestion. Does MDOT have its own advanced technologies and services to enhance these platforms and keep Michigan drivers safe and on the move?
MDOT utilizes a variety of methods to reach out to our citizens to provide traveler information. Drivers can access our Mi-Drive link for detailed information regarding construction projects, etc. Our traffic operations centers post information for incidents and rerouting on our dynamic message signs located on our freeway system.
This 2018 Waze beacon, on display in Collecting Mobility through January 22, 2022, eliminated dead spots in GPS navigation by placing battery-powered beacons in tunnels where GPS satellite signals couldn't reach. / THF188371
As vehicles and roadways transition to the future state of connectivity, there will continue to be many vehicles on the road that are not equipped with these technologies. How will the new systems accommodate older or non-connected vehicles?
MDOT works with industry partners on that transition, and as new technologies are implemented, we are always considering the users and amount of saturation for vehicles to take advantage of them. For example, MDOT provides information on our dynamic message boards, and we can also provide that information into connected vehicles. It would be difficult to remove those dynamic message signs currently, as the number of connected vehicles on the road today is not high enough. The technologies will become more prevalent as drivers get new vehicles and aftermarket technologies are implemented on older vehicles. Systems already exist on vehicles coming off the assembly line that are improving safety, such as blind spot and forward collision warnings, and adaptive cruise control.
The coming transitional period, in which connected cars share roads with non-connected vehicles, will mirror the mobility transition of the early 20th century, when horse-drawn vehicles coexisted with automobiles. / THF200129
It’s important to note that connected roadways will not cancel out the use of non-connected vehicles—there will be a transitional period where a lot of non-connected vehicles will use aftermarket Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that allow them to take advantage of the connected roadways. The non-connected vehicles may not be able to take advantage of all the benefits of the connected roadways, like communication and navigation, but there will be solutions to upgrade their vehicles to accommodate them.
We've long depended on gasoline taxes to finance road construction and maintenance. But as the percentage of electric vehicles (EVs) grows, gas tax revenues decrease. Should we be looking at new funding methods? What alternatives should we consider?
This will be an important public policy discussion going forward. In Michigan, road funding legislation signed by then-Governor Rick Snyder in 2015 included increased registration fees for EVs. Roads in Michigan are primarily funded through registration fees and fuel taxes. More creative mechanisms will be necessary to continue to maintain our roads and bridges. Legislation in Michigan tasked MDOT with conducting a statewide tolling study, which is ongoing. New public-private partnerships will be vital to creating and maintaining charging infrastructure.
Gas taxes won’t pay for roads in an electric-vehicle world. This modern problem could be solved in part with an ancient solution: toll roads. Learn more about highway funding challenges in our “Funding the Interstate Highway System” expert set. / THF2033
States could look to local governments and other state agencies to encourage charging infrastructure inclusion in building codes and utility company build-out plans. There is also uncertainty at the moment around what federal programs might be created as a result of the draft infrastructure plan being debated by Congress.
Yes, absolutely. With more electric vehicles coming to market, there is an opportunity for more creative ways to finance roads while ensuring no more of a burden on electric vehicle drivers than on gasoline vehicle drivers. Some alternatives include a VMT (vehicle miles traveled)–based fee that electric vehicle owners could opt into. The fee would be based on a combination of the vehicle’s metrics and miles driven, to accurately reflect road usage and the gas taxes that gasoline vehicle owners pay. This is also a policy recommendation in the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification’s annual report, which will be published in October 2021.
In the 1950s, there were experiments with guidewire technology that enabled a car to steer itself by following a wire embedded in the pavement. Today we're experimenting with roads that can charge electric vehicles as they travel. Is it time to rethink the road itself—to connect it directly with our cars?
Thankfully, infrastructure continues to become “smarter” due to intelligent transportation systems, smart signals, and more—for example, the simplification of the driving environment for connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs). In 2020, MDOT established a policy to increase the width of lane lines on freeways from four to six inches to support increasing use of lane departure warning and lane keeping technologies.
Our roadways evolve with our technologies. This 1956 brochure promotes the proposed Interstate Highway System—which was then a brand-new idea, not yet implemented. / THF103981
Similarly, the roadway can be evolved to optimize travel in EVs. The development of a wireless dynamic charging roadway in Michigan is a step forward in addressing range anxiety and will accelerate better understanding of infrastructure needs moving forward. This inductive vehicle charging pilot will deploy an electrified roadway system that allows electric buses, shuttles, and vehicles to charge while driving. The pilot will help to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicle infrastructure in Michigan and will create new opportunities for businesses and high-tech jobs.
Some of Michigan’s “smart infrastructure.” / Infographic courtesy MDOT
It is time to rethink the road itself—as new advancements in mobility and electrification roll out for vehicles, it’s only natural to rethink the infrastructure these vehicles operate on. As computers got smaller and more compact over time, so did their chargers. It’s a similar thing with vehicles and their infrastructure. As vehicles get smarter and more connected, the infrastructure will have to follow suit.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, Michele Mueller is Sr. Project Manager - Connected and Automated Vehicles at Michigan Department of Transportation, and Kate Partington is Program Specialist - Office of Future Mobility and Electrification at Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). The Michigan Department of Transportation is responsible for Michigan's 9,669-mile state highway system, and also administers other state and federal transportation programs for aviation, intercity passenger services, rail freight, local public transit services, the Transportation Economic Development Fund, and others. The Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification within the MEDC was created in February 2020 to bring focus and unity in purpose to state government’s efforts to foster electrification, with a vision to create a stronger state economy through safer, more equitable, and environmentally conscious transportation for all Michigan residents. See Collecting Mobility for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from October 23, 2021, through January 2, 2022.
Our new limited-engagement exhibit, Collecting Mobility: New Objects, New Stories, opening to the public October 23, 2021, takes you behind the scenes at The Henry Ford to show you how we continue to grow our vast collection of more than 26 million artifacts. One key question the exhibit asks is why we collect the items we collect. To get more insight on the artifacts on exhibit and future trends that may impact our collecting, we reached out to several of our partners. In this post from that series, our friends at the University of Michigan, donors of the Navya Autonom® driverless shuttle bus in the exhibit, tackle questions about autonomous vehicles.
The Mcity shuttle project was less about autonomous vehicle (AV) technology than it was about human psychology. Why is it important to understand our current attitudes and comfort levels with self-driving vehicles?
Self-driving vehicles promise a better world for all of us by making roads safer, reducing fuel use, and providing more equitable, more accessible mobility options to more people. None of those benefits can be realized, however, if the public does not trust fully automated vehicles or is afraid to ride in them.
When the Mcity Driverless Shuttle launched in June 2018, consumer trust in automated vehicles was declining in the wake of two fatal crashes involving partially automated vehicles in Arizona and California. Mcity wanted to better understand how consumer attitudes about self-driving vehicles might be affected if they were able to experience the technology first-hand.
Navya Autonom® Driverless Shuttle Bus, used on the University of Michigan's North Campus and Mcity Test Facility, 2017, now in the collections of The Henry Ford and on exhibit in Collecting Mobility in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation until January 2, 2022. / THF188013
Mcity worked with global market research firm J.D. Power to survey shuttle riders and non-riders—bicyclists, pedestrians, drivers of other vehicles—about their experience. By the time Mcity’s research wrapped up in December 2019, consumer sentiment nationally remained weak, according to separate surveys published in early 2020 by AAA and J.D. Power. But Mcity Driverless Shuttle survey results showed that 86 percent of riders trusted the technology after riding in the shuttle, as did 67 percent of nonriders surveyed.
Understanding the role of public trust and acceptance is essential to widespread adoption of new mobility technologies.
Self-driving cars may be the most disruptive mobility technology since the car itself. They will affect every aspect of our century-long relationship with the automobile. What can we do to ease the transition?
We must help consumers better understand the potential of this disruptive technology to improve the quality of their day-to-day life, as well as society as a whole. One way to do that is through exhibits like Collecting Mobility at The Henry Ford.
What we did not have at the dawn of the automotive age a century ago was the myriad ways to communicate that are at our fingertips today. On-demand multimedia content produced and shared by industry, government, academia, media, and other organizations teaches the public about self-driving technologies and their risks and benefits as they evolve, helping to smooth the transition to a new way of moving people and goods.
Lawn care takes commitment. Implements designed to reduce the time required to improve a lawn's appearance hit the commercial market during the mid-1800s. Push-powered lawn mowers in a variety of configurations from that era gave way to motorized models, with riding mowers gaining popularity in the 1950s. (For more on the evolution of lawn mowers, check out this expert set.) The American Marketing and Sales Company (AMSC) went one step further in the 1970s. AMSC’s autonomous Mowtron mower, the company proclaimed, “Mows While You Doze.”
AMSC released the futuristic mower, invented in 1969 by a man named Tyrous Ward, in Georgia in 1971. Its designers retained the familiar form of a riding mower, even incorporating a fiberglass “seat”—though no rider was needed. But Mowtron’s sleek, modern lines and atomic motif symbolized a new day in lawn care.
If the look of the mower promised a future with manicured lawns that required minimal human intervention, Mowtron’s underground guidance system delivered on that promise. Buried copper wire, laid in a predetermined pattern, operated as a closed electrical circuit when linked to an isolation transformer. This transistorized system directed the self-propelled, gasoline-powered mower, which, once started, could mow independently and then return to the garage.
AMSC understood that despite offering the ultimate in convenience, Mowtron would be a tough sell. To help convince skeptical consumers to adopt an unfamiliar technology, the company outfitted Mowtron with safety features, such as sensitized bumpers that stopped the mower when it touched an obstacle, and armed its sales force with explanatory material.
Mowtron’s market expanded from Georgia throughout the early 1970s. The Mowtron equipment and related materials in The Henry Ford’s collection belonged to Hubert Wenzel, who worked as a licensed Mowtron dealer as a side job. Wenzel had two Mowtron systems: he displayed one at lawn and garden shows and installed another as the family mower at his homes in New Jersey and Indiana. Wenzel’s daughter recalled cars stopping on the side of the road to watch whenever it was out mowing the lawn.
Display used by Mowtron dealer Hubert Wenzel. / THF623554, detail
Mowtron sales were never brisk—in fact, Hubert Wenzel never sold a mower—but company records show that the customers willing to try the new technology appreciated Mowtron’s styling, convenience, and potential cost savings. One owner compared her mower to a sleek Italian sports car. Another expressed pleasure at the ease of starting the mower before work and returning home to a fresh-cut yard. And one customer figured his savings in lawn care costs would pay for the machine in two years (Mowtron retailed at around $1,000 in 1974, including installation).
Despite its limited commercial success, the idea behind Mowtron had staying power. Today, manufacturers offer autonomous mowers in new configurations that offer the same promise: lawn care at the push of a button. (Discover one modern-day entrepreneur’s story on our YouTube channel.)
Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture & the Environment at The Henry Ford. Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
In honor of National Engineers Week at The Henry Ford, our Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson led a panel (including Michigan Department of Transportation’s Michele R. Mueller, Kettering University’s Kip Darcy, and Arrow Electronics’ Grace Doepker) on the topic of autonomous vehicles. The panel wasn’t able to answer all of the questions asked, so we’ve collected our inquiries for the experts to weigh in on.
If you missed the panel, you can watch the presentation here.
Is the Comuta-Car a copy of The Dale? Matt: The Dale is a story unto itself. That car (like the company behind it) was considered a fraud, while the Comuta-Car was a much more successful effort to manufacture and market vehicles. The Dale was a three-wheeled car powered by a two-cylinder internal-combustion engine. The Comuta-Car had four wheels and a DC electric motor. The Dale was also considerably larger, measuring 190 inches long to the Comuta-Car's 95 inches. That said, both cars were aimed at economy-minded customers looking for fuel efficiency.
Is there a danger to the vehicle being hacked? Michele: There is a lot of work around security from all aspects (vehicle, infrastructure, supplier hardware, software, etc.) that put multiple layers of security in place to prevent that.
Kip: System security is a big deal - ensuring vehicle platforms are using the most sophisticated security is vital to building trust for owners and operators. Over-the-air updates is an important component to ensure the vehicle platform has the latest antivirus/security defenses. Like cell phones, the platform always needs to be secure.
What types of programs/coding is available to protect the confidentiality of the car to only be assigned to the driver? Michele: The industry has developed and continues to develop things such as personal recognition items (facial features, fingerprint, eye scan, etc.) that would allow this type of driver confidentiality. It has also brought to light concern over law enforcement and emergency responder access if needed in cases of having to impound a vehicle, if the vehicle is in a crash etc. MDOT has worked very diligently with Michigan State Police specifically to meet with industry professionals and talk through these challenges from that perspective and has aided the industry in their development of the technology. MDOT also works with other entities to provide training opportunities to Emergency responders for how to handle these types of vehicles as well as electric vehicles as they become more common on the infrastructure.
Kip: Quite likely that users and owners will give up a fair amount of confidentiality w/technology providers/OEMS when using fully connected vehicles. Like web browsing and mobile phone usage, it will be used to personalize the experience. Flip side - multiple users of a vehicle would have user accounts/profiles like current smart key/fob profiles on vehicles. If someone uses your fob, they may have access to your profile and user data.
How do these cars account for winter driving in states like Michigan? Michele: A lot of testing goes on with these vehicles in all weather conditions and many of the auto companies and Tier I suppliers have facilities in northern and Upper Peninsula of Michigan to do testing such as this in those conditions. They are run through many weather scenarios rigorously and this is a good use case for why we set up our pilot and deployments in this space as sustainable environments so that regardless of when the weather happens the environment is there to test with.
Kip: As Michele points out, Michigan is an amazing test environment: the combination of extreme weather and infrastructure challenges make for great testing to compliment all of the work done in California, Arizona, and Nevada.
How do you overcome the liability issue? If an individual is in a crash due to driver’s error, it’s their fault. If an individual is in a crash in an autonomous car, is the manufacture at fault? Michele: This is a very hot topic with a lot of lawyers, legal teams, insurance entities, etc., all part of the conversation. That determination is not out yet and I believe we have a bit to go before it is resolved. I do know that the reduction of crashes is drastically reduced by taking the human error factor out which automatically leads to a reduction in injuries and fatalities.
Kip: I see the convergence of two issues; driver liability and product liability. Currently need a licensed driver in a vehicle - fault pinned to the driver (however, MI is no-fault) Malfunctioning systems would be a product liability issue - such as a possible design or manufacturing defect. In a future w/L4/L5 fully automated vehicles w/o a licensed driver, the insurance regulations will need to change. NAIC National Auto Insurance Commissioners has resources on the topic.
When do you think autonomous vehicles will become widely used in our everyday life? Michele: I personally believe that a fully Level 5 automated vehicle being widely used with saturation is 15-20 years out. We have automated vehicles today with different feature sets and they are showing benefits. There will be a transition period and a mixed use for a quite a while yet.
Kip: Based on adoption studies done before the pandemic, I would concur: 2045 for 50% adoption rate for L4/L5. Important to remember the average fleet age in the US: 11- to 12-years old; a lot of old cars on the road.
You mentioned how highways impacted cities and Black communities. You could flip that question and ask about how autonomous vehicles will impact rural communities, especially in areas where cities are few and far between and infrastructure not as important. Is there an incentive to go automated in independent, rural America? Michele: The speculation is that you will see some sort of incentivization at some point to adapt the technology in your vehicle whether new or after market. This may come as the technology and infrastructure are more advanced and refined for implementation, nobody knows for sure what that will look like however, it is very feasible. MDOT has done testing with industry partners in rural areas and to be honest there are some differences but not many, we currently do a lot of testing and deployments in the denser areas just due to the location of the industry partners doing development and testing, the closer they are to those platforms the more testing, tweaks, retesting that can be done for a lower cost. In the decision-making process for infrastructure standards and specifications we are looking at the entire State of Michigan for setting those and as upgrades and projects are done all areas are putting in the infrastructure to be ready for the technology as the needs and demand spreads.
Additional Resources: Please check out the following links to learn more.
Michigan Department of Transportation – Michigan Department of Transportation is responsible for planning, designing, and operating streets, highways, bridges, transit systems, airports, railroads and ports. Find out more about lane closures, roads, construction, aeronautics, highways, road work and travel in Michigan.
MDOT: 2021 Engineering Week Webpage Michigan Department of Transportation – 2021 Engineering Week. 2021 Engineering Week. Engineers and technicians work together at MDOT to provide Michigan the highest-value transportation services for ensured safety, economic benefit, and improved quality of life.
Arrow Electronics: Five Years Out Arrow Electronics – Welcome to the tangible future. The people who live and work here know that new technologies, new materials, new ideas and new electronics will make life not only different, but better. Not just cheaper, but smarter. Not just easier, but more inspired. Five Years Out is a way of thinking to bridge the gap between what is possible and the practical technologies to make it happen. Automotive Security AV Development and Adoption
Kettering University: Kettering University is a private non-profit STEM university in Michigan. We offer undergraduate and master-level degree programs including fully online master’s degrees. In additional we offer graduate level certificate programs on campus and online.
The Mcity Driverless Shuttle arrives at The Henry Ford.
Thanks to a generous gift from the University of Michigan (U-M), The Henry Ford recently acquired its second autonomous vehicle: a driverless shuttle used by U-M’s Mcity connected and automated vehicle research center. Readers may recall that we acquired our first AV in 2018 – a 2016 General Motors Self-Driving Test Vehicle. While the GM car was an experimental vehicle focused on technology, the Mcity shuttle took part in an intriguing project more focused on the psychology of consumer trust and acceptance of driverless vehicles.
From June 4, 2018, through December 13, 2019, Mcity, a public-private research partnership led by U-M, operated this driverless shuttle at U-M’s North Campus Research Complex in Ann Arbor. The project’s purpose was to understand how passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers interacted with autonomous vehicles. In effect, the project was a way to gauge consumer acceptance of a decidedly unconventional new technology.
The shuttle donated to The Henry Ford is one of two fully-automated, electrically-powered, 11-seat shuttles Mcity operated on a fixed route around the research complex throughout the course of the study. The shuttles were built by French manufacturer Navya. In late 2016, Navya had delivered its first self-driving shuttle in North America to Mcity, where it was used to support research and to demonstrate automated vehicle technology. In June 2017, Mcity announced plans to launch a research project in the form of an on-campus shuttle service that would be open to the U-M community.
The Mcity Driverless Shuttle operated on a one-mile loop around the North Campus Research Complex at speeds averaging about 10 miles per hour. The service ran Monday-Friday from 9 AM to 3 PM. While its route avoided heavy-traffic arteries, the shuttle nevertheless shared two-way public roadways with cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. It operated in a variety of weather conditions, including winter cold and snow; but was not used in more extreme weather, such as heavy snow or rain.
The Mcity Driverless Shuttle on its route at the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex. (Photo credit: University of Michigan)
While the shuttle and its technology are impressive enough, the impetus behind its use is arguably more important to The Henry Ford. The Mcity research project was the first driverless shuttle deployment in the United States that focused primarily on user behavior. Mcity’s goal was to learn more about how people reacted to AVs, rather than prove the technology. The two shuttles were equipped with exterior video recorders to capture reactions from people outside the shuttle, and interior video and audio recorders to capture reactions from passengers inside. On-board safety conductors, there to stop the shuttle in case of emergency, also observed rider behavior.
Mcity staff monitored ridership numbers and patterns throughout the project, and riders were encouraged to complete a survey about their experience that was developed by Mcity and the market research firm J.D. Power. Survey questions ranged from basic inquiries about age and relationship to the university, to more specific inquiries about reasons for riding, degree of satisfaction with the service, interest level in AV technology, and – most significantly – degree of trust in the shuttle and its driverless capabilities. The survey data was then analyzed by J.D. Power. You can learn more about the results through Mcity's white paper, "Mcity Driverless Shuttle: What We Learned About Consumer Acceptance of Automated Vehicles."
Along with the shuttle itself, U-M has kindly donated examples of the special signage installed by Mcity in support of the shuttle project. There are no current government regulations – at the federal, state, or local levels – for signage along a driverless vehicle route. Mcity developed its own signs to alert other road users to the shuttle’s presence. Samples include signs proclaiming “Shuttle Stop” and “Attention: Driverless Vehicle Route.”
Autonomous vehicles are coming to our streets – it’s no longer a question of “if,” but of “when.” Indeed, the Mcity shuttle project proves that AVs are, to an extent, already here. These driverless vehicles promise to be the most transformative development in ground transportation since the automobile itself. Self-driving capabilities will fundamentally change our relationship with the vehicle. The technology promises improved safety and economy in our cars and buses, greater capacity and efficiency on our roads, and enhanced mobility and quality of life for those unable to drive themselves. The Mcity Driverless Shuttle represents an important milestone on the road to autonomy, and it marks an important addition to The Henry Ford’s automotive collection.
Anyone who’s been following automotive news – or any news – over the past few years knows that autonomous vehicles are no longer science fiction. They’re here today, right now. Sure, they may not be in every garage just yet, but in cities like San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and even right here in Dearborn, they’re practically everyday sights as engineers put increasingly-refined prototypes through their paces on public roads.
Chrysler’s Portal concept car. The company that invented the minivan now reimagines it.
It’s that time of year again, when the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) brings the world’s largest automobile manufacturers to Detroit to tempt us with their upcoming models – and tease us with a few dreamy concepts. As usual, the show does not disappoint. Autonomous concept cars, compact crossovers and alternative fuels are all prominent at this year’s event.
Ford’s 2016 GT Le Mans winner, still covered in dust and glory.
Ford is rightfully proud of its big win in the GTE-Pro class at the 2016 Le Mans 24-hour race. Not surprisingly, the #68 GT piloted to victory by Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller is front and center at the company’s booth. What is pleasantly surprising, though, is that the Blue Oval resisted the urge to clean up the car and instead is displaying it in all of its battle-scarred glory. The GT wears that dirt and grime like a badge of honor.
Ford’s autonomous Fusion Hybrid. The company promises a fully autonomous car for public use in 2021.
Ford has made headlines recently with its plan to reposition itself as a mobility company rather than a carmaker. Head to the back of the firm’s NAIAS space and you’ll see that it’s more than mere talk. There’s a Go Bike from Ford’s bicycle sharing program in San Francisco, and a mention of the Chariot ride-sharing service the company purchased there in 2016. The real highlight for me, though, was the autonomous Fusion Hybrid. Apart from a pair of LIDAR units mounted above the side-view mirrors, most of the car’s sensors are hidden in what could pass for a luggage rack. Ford promises a fully autonomous vehicle in ride-sharing service in 2021. It seems the car won’t look all that different from anything else on the road. (While those LIDAR units are fairly discreet, I’m holding out for the inevitable autonomous car with an infrared scanner.)
I always love the cutaways, like this V-6 from the all-wheel drive Cadillac CT6. Note the black driveshaft, running alongside the gearbox and bell housing, which sends power to the front wheels.
Chevrolet Bolt, the 2017 North American Car of the Year.
General Motors has its own reason to crow. The Chevrolet Bolt takes honors as 2017’s North American Car of the Year. Chevy promises 90 miles of range with a 30-minute charge, certainly impressive in the EV category. And the Bolt’s 0-60 m.p.h. time of 6.5 seconds may not be Tesla-type ludicrous, but it’s a full second faster than many of its gas-powered subcompact competitors. And speaking of unconventional fuels, the General’s GMC Terrain crossover gets an optional diesel engine for 2018. GM hasn’t always had the best of luck with diesels, but the fuel efficient 1.6-liter engine could make Terrain buyers happy at the pump.
Gustaf, the Volvo Spokesmoose. He’s there to promote the Swedish carmaker’s large animal detection system – and to provide a fun photo opportunity.
The 2018 Toyota Camry gets an aggressive look to match its aggressive sales.
Toyota always mounts an impressive display at NAIAS, and this year is no exception. The company’s big surprise is a robust facelift to its perennially best-selling Camry. The 2018 model gets an angular, aggressive front end wholly unexpected on a sedan that’s practically synonymous with, well, “practical.” They say you should never mess with success, but you don’t become the world’s largest automaker by taking blind risks. I’m sure the focus groups loved the redesign. Besides, it’ll look great at Daytona.
Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz autonomous van. Think how many more mysteries Scooby and the gang could solve if Fred didn’t have to worry about driving.
Thanks to its diesel shenanigans, Volkswagen had a rough year, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the German manufacturer’s NAIAS booth. They’ve brought what might be the most eye-catching concept vehicle at Cobo Center. The I.D. Buzz is a cheery homage to the classic Microbus, but the hippies have gone high-tech. The Buzz is all-electric – and intended to be fully autonomous. As envisioned, the van gives owners the best of both worlds with a standard manual mode that can be switched over to automatic whenever the driver needs a break.
Presumably, the gas tank on this one is empty while it’s in Cobo Center – just like it was when Alexander Rossi coasted across the finish line in first place at last year’s Indianapolis 500.
Another notable race car, the 2006 Rust-eze Special. Sure to be a hit with the toddler set.
While I could have spent the whole day wandering through the main hall, I’m glad I saved some time for the lower level. From January 8-12, the space hosted “AutoMobili-D,”a dedicated exhibition focused on autonomous vehicle research, urban mobility, and a number of techy startup companies. Of particular note was the booth devoted to the University of Michigan’s Mcity autonomous vehicle test facility. That Ann Arbor track, together with the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run, enables Michigan to hold its own against the tech titans of Silicon Valley, who threaten to take away the Great Lake State’s mantle of automobile R&D leadership.
The Henry Ford’s 2010 Edison2, on view in Campus Martius.
If your visit to NAIAS takes you through Campus Martius, you might take a moment to peek in the lobby of the One Campus Martius building. There you’ll find our own Edison2 concept car, winner of the 2010 Progressive Automotive X Prize. The gasoline-powered vehicle, which weighs all of 830 pounds, got more than 100 miles per gallon during the competition. What with all of the folks from around the globe in Detroit this week, we thought we might tempt them to visit us in Dearborn. What better break from the cars of today and tomorrow than a look at the innovative automobiles of yesterday?
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
I’m keenly interested in the move toward self-driving cars, so an article in USA Today caught my eye last week: “Self-driving cars? They’re (sort of) already here.” As the headline suggests – apart from the parenthetical hedge – the autonomous auto isn’t a far-off fantasy anymore. The odds are that some of us will be playing Michael Knight before the end of the decade.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the exciting things Google is doing with its fleet of autonomous Prii, just as earlier generations were wowed by Norman Bell Geddes vision of automatic cars in his Futurama at the 1939 World’s Fair, it seems that self-driving cars aren’t going to arrive in a technological flash. Rather, they’ve been sneaking up on us bit by bit for a century.
One might trace their development all the way back to Charles Kettering’s electric starter on the 1912 Cadillac. Sure you had to flip the switch, but that car cranked itself. If not to 1912, then maybe you trace the self-driving car to 1940 and the practical Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic transmission. Surely a car that shifts its own gears is a forerunner to a self-driver. And if not GM, then you might credit Chrysler and its “Auto pilot” feature introduced in 1958. Sure, the marketing folks who named it may have over-promised a bit, but that early cruise control system certainly was an essential step toward autonomy.
Much more sophisticated systems entered the market in the last decade or so. Lexus gave us “Dynamic Laser Cruise Control” with the 2000 LS 430. This device not only maintained a regular driving speed, it also automatically slowed or stopped the car in reaction to traffic ahead. (It also proved that fancy marketing names were still very much in style.) Adaptive cruise control, like the technologies before it, made its way from luxury marques to more modest models and is now a rather widely available option. The same is true of parking assist systems, in which the car can steer itself into a parking space. They first appeared in Lincoln and Lexus models, and then migrated to Ford and Toyota offerings.
“Active lane keeping” appears to be the big story for 2014. We’ve had passive systems, in which an alarm sounds if the driver weaves or drifts, for ten years, but “active” systems are just that – active. Infiniti’s Q50 will steer itself should the driver let go of the wheel while at speed, even through broad curves. The feature is a combination of camera and radar units that “read” the road and a “drive by wire” setup through which the front wheels are steered by motors wired to the steering wheel. (There’s no mechanical connection between the front wheels and the steering wheel.) Granted, it’s up to you to get the car on and off the freeway but, while there and with the cruise control and lane keeping engaged, the Q50 essentially drives itself.
Infiniti stresses that its active lane keeping is a driver assist system. It’s meant to ease the burden rather than take it all, but that’s no different than any of its technological predecessors. All of these devices seem destined to meld into a fully functional autonomous car some day, and that day might just be sooner than any of us think.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford