Cruise control has graced many cars for a while now and it’s easy to see the benefits of such a nifty system. Not only does cruise control make long trips easier by taking the strain off of your foot, but it also improves your fuel consumption, consequently helping you save money on fill-ups and potential speeding fines.
However, the road to developing this effective system has not been a particularly straightforward one. Here, we take a look at how these systems currently work, some of the developments in cruise control history which have led us here, and where cruise control will take us in the future.
HOW CRUISE CONTROL WORKS
For those behind the steering wheel, cruise control works by simply achieving a speed of over 30mph, pressing a button which will usually be located on the steering wheel and then just applying the brake or pressing cancel to stop the cruise control.
However, the technical side of cruise control is slightly more complex. With this system, the throttle valve of your car is triggered by a cable connected to an actuator, instead of your foot on the accelerator. This throttle valve regulates the power and speed of the engine by limiting how much air is allowed in. Although it sounds relatively simple, it took a long time to master the mechanics behind cruise control.
THE HISTORY OF CRUISE CONTROL
Cruise control as we know it was invented back in 1948 by Ralph Teetor, a mechanical engineer who surprisingly, could not drive due to being completely blind. His idea for cruise control started after being driven by his lawyer, who constantly shifted speeds while talking. After years of developing and refining, the first cars to boast this technology were the 1958 models of the Chrysler Imperial, New Yorker and Windsor. Teetor’s system worked by calculating ground speed based on driveshaft rotations. It then used a bi-directional screw-drive electric motor to adjust the position of the throttle cable as necessary.
By 1960, cruise control was a standard feature on all Cadillacs. After this, different versions of the cruise control system were soon offered by various marques. They became increasingly popular in 1973 thanks to the oil crisis and the potential savings in fuel that cruise control offered.
The 90s onwards saw the rise of autonomous or adaptive cruise control, which can adjust to maintain a safe distance from vehicles in front of you. In 1992, Mitsubishi first got the ball rolling with a LIDAR-based distance detection system, however this early system only warned drivers of what was in front, without managing throttle, brakes or gears.
Autonomous cruise control today uses either radar or laser sensors which allows the vehicle to slow when approaching another vehicle ahead and accelerate again after traffic, with names like Jaguar, BMW and Audi being early contenders to boast this technology.
HOW SAFE IS CRUISE CONTROL?
Although cruise control has advanced miles over the years, there’s still question of how safe it is to rely on this system. A recent study by French based VINCI Autoroutes Foundation for Responsible Driving looked into the potential pitfalls of cruise control and discovered that it often leads to a decline in drivers’ attention, which consequently reduces their ability to respond to hazards.
According to General Delegate of the Foundation, Bernadette Moreau, drivers have less control overtaking other vehicles and have longer reaction times with cruise control. Moreau claims ‘these tools are meant to assist, not replace, drivers.’
While autonomous cruise control systems evidently reduce more hazards than basic cruise control, they are still not 100% reliable. For example, certain laser-based ACC systems do not detect vehicles in bad weather conditions and struggle to track extremely dirty vehicles.