The Road to Autonomous Vehicles

Lab Reports, Timelines
Image credit: Jesussanz/


Visions of a futuristic city vary greatly, but many of them almost always feature autonomous technology of some sort, especially in cars. Autonomous vehicles are seen as the future of driving as it can provide many benefits, such as the reduction of air pollution, traffic congestion, and accidents. Although the use of AI seems to have increased in recent years, the development of autonomous vehicles has long been a vision in the making.

Inspiration for this topic came from my previous experience researching electric vehicles, which naturally led me to the developing technology in autonomous vehicles. Part of my research introduced me to Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo, whose timeline also served as inspiration for this project.

Materials & Process

To construct the timeline, I utilized TimelineJS, an open-source tool from Northwestern University’s Knight Lab. TimelineJS is used in conjunction with Google Sheets to input information and sources and make customizations before publishing to the web.

My process entailed the following steps:

  1. Conduct preliminary research on the history and development of autonomous vehicle technology.
  2. Narrow down specific events deemed to be essential to include in the timeline.
  3. Find accompanying images and videos, where appropriate, to demonstrate and visualize selected events.
  4. Input information and media into Google Sheets and use the ‘Preview’ feature on TimelineJS as a guide when making edits and refinements.
Timeline in progress

Results & Analysis

Conducting preliminary research across various sources helped to highlight which events are considered milestones in the development of autonomous technology in vehicles. Finding the appropriate media to accompany each milestone proved to be relatively easy once the events were selected, with creative room for the modern events as both video clips and a variety of images brought many possibilities.

From my research, it was clear that AI had an enormous impact and changed the course in the development of autonomous vehicles. I was fascinated to see the switch from the reliance on exterior technologies, such as radio controls, to embedded software programs in the vehicles itself. This shift in research and development was something that I wanted to highlight in my timeline and thought of various ways I could bring attention to it. I decided to explore this by using black-and-white images as both the background and media image to evoke a historical, or retro, ambiance.

Use of a background image for earlier events.

However, this proved to be too stark of a contrast compared to the modern events which had no background and disrupted the flow of events rather than highlight the change.

No background images for recent events.

I set out to make the necessary changes in order to be consistent with regards to the use or absence of background images. By removing the background images, the timeline no longer had the stark division between old and new and feels consistent throughout. Link to the final timeline is below:


My first time using TimelineJS was an overall positive experience. I especially enjoyed its ease of use and how I could instantly see my work and interact with it. If provided with more time, I would attempt to visually display the shift in autonomous technology development by exploring with different fonts, colors, and even the use of background images, while remaining consistent throughout the timeline.

One issue I did struggle with when creating my timeline was trying to strike a balance between the use of images and videos. I ultimately decided to end my timeline with a video demonstration of Tesla’s autopilot self-driving capabilities, as it serves as a culmination of the developments of autonomous technology up to date. Rather than end with an image of a futuristic looking vehicle, I wanted to make more of an impact by showing how far the technology has come with a video clip, while acknowledging that there is still room for improvements and advancements.