That last post got me thinking. Over the past dozen or so years, autonomous vehicles have made impressive advances, but it's important to remember that many researchers had convinced most of the press that level 5 was just around the corner and that the progress we've seen, while substantial, has not been exceptionally fast by historical standards.
Here's a look at what happened in the first decade of powered flight. The pace of breakthroughs was stunning. Just as important, the adjustments people had to make in the way they viewed the world was tremendous.
This was not an isolated case. From the same late 19th/early 20th century period, I could come up with a half dozen similar stories, with perhaps as many coming out of the postwar era. As cool and as significant as many of the developments of the 21st century, from a historical perspective we have a ways to go.
From late 1903:
According to the Smithsonian Institution and Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the Wrights made the first sustained, controlled, powered heavier-than-air manned flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, four miles (8 km) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on 17 December 1903.
The first flight by Orville Wright, of 120 feet (37 m) in 12 seconds, was recorded in a famous photograph. In the fourth flight of the same day, Wilbur Wright flew 852 feet (260 m) in 59 seconds. The flights were witnessed by three coastal lifesaving crewmen, a local businessman, and a boy from the village, making these the first public flights and the first well-documented ones.
A good indication of the progress during the era is provide by the annual Gordon Bennett races. The first competition, held in 1909 during the Grande Semaine d'Aviation at Reims, was over a distance of 20 km (12 mi) and was won by Glenn Curtiss at a speed of 75.27 km/h (46.77 mph). By 1913, the last pre-war contest, the race was over a distance of 200 km (120 mi) and the winner's speed was 200.8 km/h (124.8 mph). At the end of 1909 the record for distance flown was 234.30 km (145.59 mi) and for altitude 453 m (1,486 ft): by the end of 1913 the record for distance was 1,021.19 km (634.54 mi) and the altitude record was 6,120 m (20,079 ft)