Gizmos & Gadgets: Adaptive Cruise Control

With the increase in standard safety features being installed in new vehicles over the last six to seven years, the one feature that will be the center of making it all work is a system called adaptive cruise control.  In some new models, this radar-based system has evolved to reacting to driving conditions – without driver intervention.  At this rate, it can be reasonably assumed that this technology will be at the core of what is becoming known as the autonomous or driverless car.

Cruise Control History

Modern cruise control, (also known as a speedostat) has been around for over 60 years.  Invented in 1948 by inventor and mechanical engineer Ralph Teetor, his idea was born out of the frustration of riding in a car driven by his lawyer, who kept speeding up and slowing down as he talked. The first car with Teetor’s system was the 1958 Chrysler Imperial (called “Auto-pilot”). This system calculated ground speed based on driveshaft rotations driveshaft rotations off the rotating speedometer-cable, and used a bi-directional screw-drive electric motor to vary throttle position as needed.

Mechanical cruise control was replaced by electronic cruise control in later years.  Daniel Aaron Wisner invented Automotive Electronic Cruise Control in 1968 as an engineer for RCA’s Industrial and Automation Systems Division in Plymouth, Michigan. His invention described in two patents filed that year (&3570622 & &3511329), with the second modifying his original design by debuting digital memory, was the first electronic gadgetry to play a role in controlling a car and ushered in the computer-controlled era in the automobile industry.

Two decades passed before an integrated circuit for his design was developed by Motorola Inc. as the MC14460 Auto Speed Control Processor in CMOS. As a result, cruise control was eventually adopted by automobile manufacturers as standard equipment and nearly every car built and many trucks are fitted with a configuration of the circuitry and hardware nearly identical to his prototype.

Adaptive Cruise Control History 

Mitsubishi was the first automaker to offer a laser-based ACC system in 1995 on the Japanese Mitsubishi Diamante. Marketed as “Preview Distance Control,” this early system did not apply the brakes and only controlled speed through throttle control and downshifting.  In August 1997 Toyota began to offer a “radar cruise control” system in Japan on the Celsior. Toyota further refined their system by adding “brake control” in 2000 and “low-speed tracking mode” in 2004. The low-speed speed tracking mode was a second mode that would warn the driver if the car ahead stopped and provide braking; it could stop the car but then deactivated.

Toyota’s Lexus division was the first to bring adaptive cruise control to the US market in 2000 with the LS 430’s Dynamic Laser Cruise Control system.  The German automaker Mercedes-Benz introduced Distronic in late 1998 on its large S-class sedan. In 2006, Mercedes-Benz refined the Distronic system to completely halt the car if necessary (now called “Distronic Plus” and offered on their E-Class and S-Class luxury sedans).  This feature is now also offered by Bosch as “ACC plus” and available in the Audi Q7, the Audi Q5, 2009 Audi A6 and the 2010 Audi A8.

Vehicles with full speed range adaptive cruise control are able to bring the car to a full stop, and resume from standstill. Partial cruise control cuts off below a set minimum speed, requiring driver intervention.  Most of the automakers offering vehicles for sale during the 2015 model year in the American marketplace offer at least one model that features full speed range adaptive cruise control.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

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