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Automated Automobiles
This is "Junior", a self-driving Volkswagen Passat, at Stanford University.

Dr. Shiouji: Say, haven't you too ever been put in a tizzy by that horrible term — automobile? What's so auto about it? If you want it to be mobile, you've still got to pump and grip and be in the highest state of awareness. Surely a classic example of misplaced exertion. The technology is incomplete. The technology is a no-no-noying. Why is it the case that's the case? Now if I were in charge, there are certain things that I would do. In fact, I've already done them. Behold... my perfection! The Full-Auto-Mobil—
Excel: (Karate chops Shiouji in the head.) You dare even attempt to utter that line?!
Excel♥Saga, volume 5.

This trope refers to the operation of vehicles - not just cars - on public highways, where the vehicle has no human operating it. Might require Advanced Phlebotinum to explain how they can get away with it. This trope would not include vehicles operated by video remote control unless it can operate without the person running the screen, nor would it usually include a vehicle running automated on a test track. The trope is more about driverless vehicles on public highways.

This may be the norm in a story set in the future, but it's just as likely to be played for horror. Imagine yourself being trapped in an automated vehicle that is trying to kill you, gets hacked by the bad guys, or just goes haywire. This fear will probably delay any attempts to implement it in Real Life.

Increasingly, this is Truth in Television – from simple "guided buses" using optical guidance to fully-robotic self-driving car prototypes, like the one in the image above. DARPA, Google, multiple major carmakers and even some leading universities have demonstrated functional autonomous cars as of 2013. Meanwhile, autopilots have existed for almost as long as airplanes have, but then there has always been far less chance of crashing into another vehicle while in the air due to there being much more empty space to navigate in.

At the extreme end, this trope overlaps with Sentient Vehicle. Compare and contrast with Attack Drone, which is typically flying and usually far more aggressive.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • An ad for car insurance illustrated the unpredictability of advances in motoring technology with a rather cool shot of a large intersection with automated cars interweaving every which way.

    Anime & Manga 
  • There's an anime called éX-Driver, where everyone uses automated cars - unfortunately, the AI in them occasionally goes nuts and the car goes out of control, at which point it's up to a squad of people with the instinctive ability to drive manual-control cars (called eX-Drivers) to chase them down and bring them to a halt with their driving skills and some fancy battools (specifically, a gadget that freezes up the target's onboard GPS and revolvers that fire some sticky-cement substance for blacking out the machine's sensors). It is very, very cool. And theme songs are by JAM Project!
  • Implied in Serial Experiments Lain. First, a speeding car almost hits Lain while standing in the middle of the road. Later, we hear a news report that says the guidance system somehow went haywire.
  • The page quote comes from a story in the Excel♥Saga manga, where Excel accidentally gets trapped in Mad Scientist Dr. Shiouji's robotic car, which has a crush on its creator and wants to Murder what it thinks is the Hypotenuse.
  • Used as a device in the Bubblegum Crisis episode Revenge Road where the Knight Sabres end up having to rescue a couple from a car that has incapacitated its driver and taken over.
    • Also, the Knight Sabres' motoroids may qualify as they are capable of acting independently under their own AI.
  • Digimon Frontier (as well as the comics) had the digital world populated by machine digimon called Trailmon, who were sentient trains who carried their passengers to certain locations. Many of the trailmon had different looks, voices, and personalities, some even resembling mechanized animals, a kettle, and Frankenstein.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Academy City has self-driving electric buses, though they're only brought out on special occasions when the general public is permitted into the city. Most of the time they have ordinary manually-driven buses like most other places.
  • Legend of Galactic Heroes: Vehicles in the Alliance capital planet of Heinessen appear to have this function, though drivers can easily switch to manual controls if they so wish.

    Films — Animation 
  • Played with in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. The Batmobile is being chased through a glut of cars by a Kill Sat beam. Batman escapes, but untold numbers of cars are blown up. In the commentary, the creators joke that those are all robot cars, so nobody died. (Oh, and they were driving through the abandoned buildings district, too.)
  • The movie Cars is all about this, as it's about anthropomorphic automobiles. Adam Sessler from X-Play plays with this in his review of the game.
  • Benny the Cab from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. "No, I'll drive, I'm the cab!" After being injured by some Dip, he/it ends up driving a car.
  • The "Glory Days" flashback sequence in The Incredibles briefly shows the Incredicar driving itself while Mr. Incredible changes into costume.
  • At the end of the song "Worthless" from The Brave Little Toaster, one of the junkyard cars actually commits suicide by driving into the car crusher!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • All the cars in Minority Report... although at least some models seem to have a "manual mode", they seem to do most of their travelling under computer control, apparently from some kind of central traffic control system. There is a chase scene in which the hero must escape from his automated car, which the police can easily track while it's in motion and have programmed to bring him to the nearest station.
  • The automated 18-wheelers in Solar Crisis. They put a motorcycle on the road to try to stop one and the truck just runs right over it, but when one of them stands out in the path of the next one that comes along, this truck does stop. The truck has a fail-safe to prevent it from running over people.
  • Johnny Cab from the original Total Recall (1990).
  • The Batmobile in The Dark Knight.
  • In the Inspector Gadget movie, the Gadgetmobile became an automated talking car.
  • Quite a few Transformers have car altmodes, so they qualify. This was played with in The Movie, where Bumblebee conveniently "breaks down" at a Make-Out Point while carrying Sam and Michaela.
  • The I, Robot movie has Spooner taking a snooze while his automated Audi drives itself. Later in the movie, after he's involved in an accident caused by a lorry load of robotic assassins, he's chewed out for driving manually at high speed, implying it's unusual (as part of his technophobic ways) that he drives manually. He was also going in excess of 100 mph. It's assumed that machines have quick enough reactions to avoid accidents. Humans aren't that quick.
  • The cars in Demolition Man have an auto-drive mode. It becomes a plot point when one of the cops is the only one that can drive a stick-shift (but not well) because she watches a lot of old movies.
  • In The 6th Day, Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his friend have a chat to each other while their car drives itself. The car then asks if he wants to switch to manual mode as they near the heliport where they work, which Arnie does.
  • In The Love Bug movies, Herbie goes exactly where it wants to, sometimes with helpless passengers trapped inside.
  • The Car (1977) is about a car that goes on a killing spree. Presumably, being possessed by a demon rather than just being driven by one brings it within this trope.
  • Timecop has futuristic-looking government cars with computers taking you to your destination (in the year 2004!). Van Damme's character demonstrates this by initializing the system and the computer asks for his destination. He replied, "home." This allows him to be surprised at the end of the film when the car takes him to a different home.
  • Happens in the opening of King of the Rocket Men, the 1949 Republic Film Serial that kicked off the Rocketman character. A scientist gets into his car only to find it's been modified by the shadowy Dr. Vulcan, who uses remote control radio waves to send it off a cliff. The same thing happens to the hero, who of course escapes. The scene is Gag Dubbed in J Men Forever when the Lightning Bug causes numerous crashes by playing loud rock music.

    Literature 
  • Used in a Warlock of Gramarye novel by Christopher Stasheff, the robot brain eventually becomes the property of Rod Gallowglass' family and Rod's faithful servant, Fess.
  • Stephen King's short story Trucks does this with anything automotive, and they don't like humans any more...
    • Trucks was later turned into a movie, Maximum Overdrive, which also features a rather unpleasantly homicidal pop machine.
    • Speaking of Stephen King, the titular car in Christine also has a rather nasty mind of her own...
  • In the sci-fi novel (part of the Night's Dawn trilogy) by Peter F. Hamilton The Neutronium Alchemist, the intelligence agents pursuing Dr Alkad Mzu have to switch to manual driving when the electronic-warfare abilities of the possessed glitch their vehicles.
  • The Dream Master by Roger Zelazny takes this to an extreme, with people joyriding in the things by repeatedly changing the destination before they arrive, sometimes with the windows blacked out.
    • In one case a seeing eye dog made use of one, when going to get help for his mistress from the titular character.
  • In Larry Niven's Known Space universe, it's illegal (and, in fact, a capital offense) on Earth to operate a car on manual within city limits. Considering how some people drive and the fact that they're all flying cars...
  • Isaac Asimov wrote one short story revolving around robotic cars.
  • Technology like this appears to exist in Honor Harrington. When investigating a character's death by aircar collision, the examiners have a discussion which implies that it's the standard mode for aircars, at least in Haven, and that switching over to manual mode requires the user to pass a blood-alcohol test. Of course, the books also make a side-mention that Havenites routinely tamper with the built-in blood-alcohol testing equipment.
  • These had just been invented in Remnants when the rock hit. It mentions that the legal driving age was reduced to twelve if you're driving an automated car.
  • The Auto M8s in Daemon. They perform incredible feats of maneuvering (for example, while traveling at 100+MPH, a group of them drives in a circle around a protected vehicle in an "interlocking slalom") and can target and kill humans handily.
  • In the Harry Potter universe, Mr. Weasley's enchanted Ford Anglia becomes one of these.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • In A Civil Campaign, Miles' armsman/chauffeur, after the third vehicular near-miss of the week, inquires when Vorbarr Sultana would be getting its municipal traffic control system installed. Miles responds that priority was being given to the automated air traffic control in light of increased lightflyer fatalities.
    • Brothers in Arms and Cryoburn describe in passing the use of automated ground vehicles in London (Earth) and Northbridge (Kibou-Daini), respectively.
    • And auto-cabs are mentioned in both A Civil Campaign and Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, so these exist even without a municipal traffic control system.
  • The Eoin Colfer novel The Supernaturalist takes place in the near future where almost all cars use plastic treads instead of tires and lock into grooves on the roads while driving, though not all roads have this track system and are used for drag racing.
  • Robert A. Heinlein used the trope more than once. His Future History novel Methuselah's Children opens with a character settling back for a nap while her car drives her to her destination, before resuming manual control when she reaches the back roads. In his later novel Job: A Comedy of Justice, his protagonists—who are being involuntarily dumped from one parallel world to another—wind up in a relatively higher-tech universe and are picked up by a guy in a very slick automated automobile. (Both protagonists are stark naked at the time; also, the guy who gives them a ride later turns out to be Satan.)
  • In Harry Harrison's Homeworld (the first novel of the To the Stars trilogy), cars of the upper classes in most of the developed world can drive themselves provided they're on roads that have special wires under them. At the beginning of the novel, the protagonist is coming home from an inspection of a factory in another city. Upset, he gets drunk and then tries to drive. The car "smells" alcohol and refuses to allow him to drive manually until he's almost home. Later on, when he's trying to find out how the lower classes live in this 1984-esque world, he has to leave his car a few blocks away from the end of the "wire" territory, so as not to arouse Security's suspicions.
  • The Fiat Affordable from Incompetence, which becomes a plot point.
  • Pretty much the default for civilian anti-gravity "gliders" and similar vehicles on worlds that have them in Perry Rhodan. Pilots usually can take personal control (or at least more or less forcefully override the automatic guidance if they know how or just get lucky), but in their everyday lives most people simply never bother. (This is sometimes played for humor, as with a character who finds out from a public glider he's requested the day Earth's automated infrastructure resumes operations after a rather extended downtime — to see if they really work again — that all of that service's rides will be free that day...and suddenly feels rather grateful for that because he's gotten so used to having to hotwire shutdown vehicles and otherwise co-opt "ownerless" gear using that he doesn't even have any money on him.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • KITT from Knight Rider is probably the Trope Codifier for this trope.
    • Also, KARR, a villainous version.
    • Dante, Domino, Beast, Plato, and Kat from Team Knight Rider.
  • An episode of F/X: The Series featured the Vindicator, an automated 4x4 capable of arresting criminals. It was a Show Within a Show, and the vehicle was, in fact, remote-controlled.
  • The titular Wonder-Bug (a magical dune buggy) from the Krofft Supershow.
  • Angel, Gunn, and Spike are taken to a Hell dimension by one in the Angel episode "Underneath". Although, unlike most examples on this page, it is driven by magic, rather than technology.
  • On Top Gear, Jeremy supervises an fully automated BMW 330i after it has "learned" the test track, noting that if you really want to terrify yourself, the automation system can be fitted on an M3.
  • The NCIS episode "Driven" involved the autonomous vehicle "Otto". Incidentally, it had also been programmed to kill a human occupant.
  • Lightning Cruiser and Storm Blaster from Power Rangers Turbo.
    • There was also an evil version in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the Monster of the Week called the Crabby Cabby. (Not only was it evil and led the Rangers on a chase down the highway with Kimberly, Bulk, and Skull trapped inside it, it was a Deadpan Snarker with the attitude of a stereotypical rude New York cab driver.)

    Puppet Shows 
  • Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons: Several times, when the Mysterons re-create a vehicle, they don't bother re-creating the pilot/driver. The Mysterons being invisible, it's never quite clear whether they're controlling it from afar or whether they're invisibly there behind the wheel. It's almost definitely the former case the one time they directly steal a nuclear transporter while the driver is still in it. After the truck has driven itself into a safely hidden underground carpark, the driver then helplessly watches the nuclear device arm itself...

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Millennium City setting for Champions, all cars within the city limits must have Vehicle Control Chips installed and functioning. The cars are driven by a central computer, rather than an onboard system. Presumably, the cars still have regular human controls as well — the sourcebook states that cars from other areas can enter as long as they have VCCs, and the system is only really in place in Millennium City, so you would be driving manually up to the city, then switching to computer control. (This editor doesn't know if VCCs are used for cars in the Champions Online version of Millennium City.)
    • As the cars in Champions Online 1) have opaque windows, making it impossible to see if anyone is in them, and 2) only exist as indestructible, moving scenery that occasionally bump (harmlessly) a PC or NPC, the point is actually rather moot.
  • In the angels-vs-demons game In Nomine, the angels called "kyriotates" specialize in possessing people and animals (benignly). Kyriotates in service to the Archangel of Lightning can also possess machines and have been known to possess cars, to drive their buddies, capture bad guys, and so on,
  • In the Shadowrun universe, automobiles in many of the larger cities become part of the Grid Guide system , which is designed to allow vehicles to traverse traffic in the easiest, most efficient way possible while eliminating the chance for human driving error. In such a way, cars can move at nearly top speed and shift and turn instantly only inches from one another with little risk. The trope differs from normal in that the cars themselves are not automated, but rather are slaved to a traffic management system that directs the cars from a central location.
    • The cars are indeed automated; they're just not autonomous.
  • In Transhuman Space, everything with computing power (which is everything) runs at the very least a non-sapient AI. Some supplements have suggested it might be illegal for a human to drive a car (especially an aircar), since they wouldn't have as much awareness as an AI treating the vehicle as a cybershell.

    Web Comics 
  • In Schlock Mercenary, automated automobiles are the norm, and AIs are easily advanced enough to drive them. In fact, manual driving under influences is a crime punishable by death, as discussed here.
    • It's described in the page notes as deserving capital punishment because you can't just flip a switch and be in control; the vehicles are not designed for manual control and have to be pretty extensively modified, so it amounts to deliberate murder rather than simple 'oops'.
    • Less "murder" and more very serious negligence; you must first disable the safeguards preventing you from using the machine while intoxicated, enable or install a manual operation, get intoxicated, and use the machine. To quote the notes:
    You know those signs that say "don't putz around with this system — serious injury or death could result?" Well, they were talking about YOUR death, and it is now resulting.

    Western Animation 
  • Transformers
    • In some incarnations, the Autobots have used holograms or mannequins to seem like they're avoiding this trope. The first holo-driver was demonstrated by Hound in the original series, as he was one of the few with holographic capabilities. Motorcycle-bots Prowl (Transformers Animated) and Arcee (Transformers Prime) project their own holographic rider avatars. In the Alliance comic series set in the movieverse, Optimus Prime sets his holo-driver to look like Peter Cullen.
    • In the Marvel comics, Wheeljack installed the aforementioned mannequins so the Autobots could appear to have drivers in vehicle mode. They weren't necessarily convincing.
    • Transformers Armada: Sideways does this, but slightly differently. Instead of a hologram, the combined and disguised form of his minicons Rook and Crosswise "drives" him.
  • Hanna-Barbera gave us Wheelie And The Chopper Bunch.
  • On an episode of The Simpsons, Homer discovers that long-distance truckers secretly allow a computer to do the driving. When the computer finds Homer has the truck on a collision course with no room to brake and is not the original driver, the computer itself escapes the truck.
    • And the Show Within a Show, Knight Boat (a parody of Knight Rider).
    • Parodied in "Homer Loves Flanders": Homer accepts going to a big football game with Flanders. While they are driving trough the stadium parking lot, Homer spots Lenny and Carl and makes Flanders duck so they won't see him with Homer despite Flanders being the one driving. Thus Lenny and Carl see Homer waving at them from the passenger seat of a "driverless" car...
      Lenny: Hey, look! Homer's got one of those robot cars!
      [A loud offscreen crash is heard]
    • In another episode Bart and his friends rent a car. Bart, who was driving, climbs into the back seat explaing "cruise control". It goes pretty much as you would expect.
  • The Futurama episode The Honking had the Planet Express crew dealing with the legacy of the accursed Werecar. Said Werecar and its victims naturally drove themselves.
  • The animated Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch Killer Cars was about this trope.
  • The star of the short-lived 1980s cartoon Turbo Teen was a teenager who turned into one of these.
  • The equally short-lived Pole Position cartoon of the mid-1980s featured TWO of these—a classic Mustang look-alike called Wheels, and a retro-futuristic stunt car with gull-wing doors called Roadie.
  • Happened at least twice in The Real Ghostbusters. Both times, Ecto-1 was possessed by a malevolent spirit and attacked the Ghostbusters. The first time, it immediately transformed into a monstrous version of itself, but the transformation was much slower and subtler in the second instance; the car spent half the episode screwing with Winston's head before taking off on its own.
  • C.A.R. from The Replacements.
  • Stroker and Hoop had a sentient automated car named C.A.R.R. Although he wasn't always helpful, considering his vengeful, paranoid, somewhat racist, and rather effeminate (although he denies it) personality.
  • An episode of Danny Phantom had him and his friends attempts to find three Power Crystals capable of Rewriting Reality if placed in a special Reality Gauntlet. One of the gems, which had the power to control life and death, potentially gave life to a space shuttle which culminated in a chase between Danny and the aggressive aircraft before he removed the gem animating it and returned it back to normal. It and the other two gems were also used by the villain to turn a bunch of train cars into robots.
  • In "The Venture Bros.", Brock Samson's beloved '69 Charger turned out to have an automated capability among its many spy gadgets, as we found out when it was programmed to turn against him. "Arleen" was one of the few things he was ever sad about killing.

    Video Games 

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