What are the origins of object permanence? Despite widespread interest in this question, methodological barriers have prevented detailed analysis of how experience shapes the development of object permanence in newborn organisms. Here, we introduce an automated controlled‐rearing method for studying the emergence of object permanence in strictly controlled virtual environments. We used newborn chicks as an animal model and recorded their behavior continuously (24/7) from the onset of vision. Across four experiments, we found that object permanence can develop rapidly, within the first few days of life. This ability developed even when chicks were reared in impoverished visual environments containing no object occlusion events. Object permanence failed to develop, however, when chicks were reared in environments containing temporally non‐smooth objects (objects moving on discontinuous spatiotemporal paths). These results suggest that experience with temporally smooth objects facilitates the development of object permanence, confirming a key prediction of temporal learning models in computational neuroscience.