Adaptive cruise control automatically controls the acceleration and braking of a vehicle.
How adaptive cruise control works
By monitoring other vehicles and objects on the road, adaptive cruise control enables a safe and comfortable driving experience. It does so by helping the driver keep a steady vehicle speed at a given moment. The driver can set their preference regarding certain factors, such as the distance to the car in front, driving mode – for example, economical, sporty or comfortable – and others. Together with information about speed limits, road curvature, accidents data and more, these choices influence the automatically selected speed.
Cruise control has come a long way from its early days in its quest to assist drivers on the road. When first introduced, it was only found in luxury car models due to its high production cost. As less expensive sensors reached the market, adaptive cruise control is steadily becoming a standard feature in new vehicles today.
What is the difference between normal cruise control and adaptive cruise control?
The origins of normal cruise control go back to 1948, when Ralph Teetor invented the speedostat. Having greatly improved since, its focus on throttle control is still central to automation today. One example is automatically pressing the acceleration pedal, which enables drivers to take their foot off the pedal for a few moments when they are on a motorway with low traffic. The need to remain vigilant remains, so they can brake whenever required.
In the late 1990s, several carmakers started introducing a new generation of cruise control: adaptive cruise control. This technology relies on front radar to address the biggest limitation traditional cruise control had: the ability to correctly appreciate the speed of the vehicle in front.
This improvement significantly expanded the continuous operation time of the cruise control function, as automation allowed to control both the acceleration and braking of a vehicle. This allowed the driver to travel for longer distances with their feet off the pedal, even in moderate traffic situations on the motorway. Of course, the need for them to pay attention to the road ahead remained, as cars in front could still brake or suddenly cut in.
As drivers are getting more and more comfortable with using ACC while driving, the expectation for an even longer duration of continuous operation time for the system is rising. In turn, this puts pressure for it to be further improved. As new enhancements are made, the market is shifting to a new standard in ACC, called intelligent cruise control.