How adaptive cruise control makes long drives a breeze

Cruise control is a useful and oftentimes essential feature found in most vehicles nowadays.

It controls a vehicle’s speed using throttle position, fuel injection and engine speed to accelerate, coast or decelerate. It’s very useful on long journeys and has been a mainstay feature on cars since the 1990s, especially in the United States.

Recent advances in technology have allowed car makers to improve upon cruise control and it’s trickling down to the most affordable cars on the market.

We are, of course, referring to adaptive cruise control. But how does it even work? 

Cruise control on steroids

With the advent of drive-by-wire technology, cruise control can now be a fully computerized affair.

A vehicle’s computer can already dictate the throttle position, gear and fuel supply for the engine. Adaptive cruise control takes advantage of this by pairing the computer with radar and onboard cameras.

In essence, radar allows the computer to map out what is ahead of it in a virtual, three-dimensional space. It can understand the world around it as it’s translated into ones and zeroes for the computer to read.

It then uses that map to decide how best to modulate the car’s speed so as not to hit any traffic ahead of it.

This technology appeared for the first time in the 1999 Mercedes Benz S-Class, as it usually happens with groundbreaking technology.

mercedes benz distronic plus display
The DISTRONIC PLUS system used on modern Mercedes-Benzes.

Called Mercedes-Benz Distronic, the system used radar and drive-by-wire technology to maintain the vehicle’s speed. It slows down when the car in front slows down and then speed up again when the lane ahead clears.

How the system worked in that German luxury sedan 23 years ago is still how it works today with more ordinary cars like the Ford Territory or the Subaru Outback.

Self-driving cars on the horizon?

Meanwhile, cars like the Tesla Model S use a new system called LiDaR – Light Detection and Ranging.

tesla model s
Teslas like this Model S have some level of autonomous driving.

This is a form of laser imaging to further enhance the image seen by the computer, essentially giving the world definition, topography and a more real-world appearance (at least for a computer).

LiDaR-equipped vehicles are more capable of making complex decisions because they’re able to differentiate between cars, SUVs, motorcycles, trucks and pedestrians.

This is why vehicles like Teslas have some level of autonomous driving, which is a higher form of cruise control, in a manner of speaking.

What does that mean for the future? Well, for starters, autonomous driving may eventually trickle down to more affordable vehicles.

At some point in the future, even the most basic vehicles can automatically make lane changes, merge onto highways, perform overtaking maneuvers and navigate city streets without any input from a human driver.

Whether or not the trade of control for convenience is good remains to be seen, though.

Source: How adaptive cruise control makes long drives a breeze

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