The Race to Create the Autonomous Car


The self-driving car has been one of the most hyped technological breakthroughs of recent years. But early promises that these autonomous vehicles would soon be on the roads have proven premature. Wired editor Alex Daviesfollows the twists and turns of this story from its origins to today.

The story starts with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which was charged with developing a land-based equivalent to the drone, a vehicle that could operate in war zones without risking human lives. DARPA issued a series of three “Grand Challenges” that attracted visionaries, many of them students and amateurs, who took the technology from Jetsons-style fantasy to near-reality. The young stars of the Challenges soon connected with Silicon Valley giants Google and Uber, intent on delivering a new way of driving to the civilian world.

Soon the automakers joined the quest, some on their own, others in partnership with the tech titans. But as road testing progressed, it became clear that the challenges of driving a car without human assistance were more formidable than anticipated.

Davies profiles the industry’s key players from the early enthusiasm to their growing awareness that while this spin on artificial intelligence isn’t yet ready for rush-hour traffic, driverless cars are poised to remake how the world moves. Driven explores this exciting quest to transform transportation and change our lives.

Photograph by Christie Hemm Klok

Alex Davies is an editor at WIRED, where he oversees a team of writers for the transportation section. He formerly covered transportation full-time as a reporter for Business Insider. Davies covers a wide swath of topics in the world of transportation, including the quest to build Elon Musk’s hyperloop, America’s infrastructure woes, the wild engineering of Formula 1 race cars, and the politics of the transition to electric driving. He lives in Berkeley, California.

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 21, 2021)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501199431

“With Alex Davies' superb book, we learn that autonomous cars are far from driverless:  the amazing effort to produce them has been directed by a cast of brilliant, and sometimes flawed human beings, all of whom are compellingly rendered in this illuminating and important narrative. Read Driven, preferably not while behind the wheel.”

– Steven Levy, author of Hackers and Facebook: The Inside Story

“Autonomous vehicles will someday reshape our cities and transform our lives. In Driven, Alex Davies delivers a highly readable and engaging narrative that showcases the brilliant, passionate and intensively competitive group of innovators who shepherded the self-driving car from its origins at the DARPA Grand Challenge and then set out to build an entirely new industry that would race toward making the technology a reality.”

– Martin Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Robots and Architects of Intelligence

"Starts a bit slowly as Davies sets the stage, but like its subject, it gains speed and momentum as it gets going. The result is a skillfully chronicled work on a timely topic.”

– Publishers Weekly