Adaptive cruise control technology is a key part of the autonomous driving revolution. Commonly referred to as radar cruise control, this technology works to automatically adjust the vehicle’s speed to adapt to the vehicle’s speed in front of it, thereby maintaining a safe following distance. The technology itself does not rely on satellite or infrastructure, it simply employs data from built in sensors.

How Adaptive Cruise Control Works

So how does adaptive cruise control technology work? It allows the driver to set the cruise control to the maximum speed they’d like to go. Once the speed has been set, radar sensors located behind the grille work to watch and monitor the traffic in front of the vehicle.

The vehicle will then stay 2-4 seconds behind the vehicle its following. If the vehicle gets too close to the one in front of it, the pre-crash system will alert the driver to brake, and (if paired with brake assisting technology) will even initiate braking.

Types of Adaptive Cruise Control

Depending on the vehicle’s adaptive cruise control system, the sensors may be laser or radar-based. There are three main types of adaptive cruise control: Assisting Systems, Multi-Sensor Systems and Cooperative Systems.

Assisting systems utilize radar-based adaptive cruise control technology. These systems often offer a collision avoidance system. The collision avoidance system works to warn drivers if they are in danger of a collision. Some systems may also offer brake support. Other features that may be included are a lane departure warning system, and power steering assist.

Adaptive cruise control technology that comes as a multi-sensor system employs more than standard radar cruise control and incorporates GPS technology. GPS is installed with the system to provide further guidance on the highway. For instance, incorporating GPS in the overall system allows for the vehicle to adapt not only just to the vehicle in front of it by braking, but also brakes for highway exits.

Taking things up a notch are cooperative systems. Cooperative systems (also known as Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control) utilize automated systems in conjunction with LIDAR or radar measuring technology. The system is still in planning stages; however, it promises to offer superior guidance with the potential to include vehicle to vehicle mobile technology, as well as advanced forms of radar and LIDAR sensor technology.

Development of Adaptive Cruise Control

Adaptive cruise control technology is common amongst many manufacturers today. Mitsubishi earned the title of the first automaker to offer lidar-based distance detection. The system was released in 1992 on the Japanese market. The technology was dubbed Distance Warning, which simply alerted the driver. Although the system was not autonomous, it did mark the way for future developments. By 1995, the automotive manufacturer introduced laser Preview Distance Control to their lineup. Although the system did not offer Brake Assist technology, it worked to adjust the throttle and downshift accordingly to maintain speed. By 1997 Toyota released its laser adaptive cruise control, a LIDAR based system, to the Japanese market. It worked similarly to Mitsubishi’s Preview Distance Control. Toyota made further advances in 2000, by adding brake assist technology.

Mercedes made its DISTRONIC technology available on a worldwide scale in 1999. By 2005, the system was refined allowing for full halting capability. Today, the manufacturer offers DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist on S-Class mode. Meanwhile, other manufacturers have stepped up to the plate with advancements of their own. Offering their respective variations of this technology include Audi, Cadillac, Lexus, Acura, Jaguar and more.

Adaptive Cruise Control and Self Driving Cars

There are many benefits to utilizing adaptive cruise control technology. Adaptive cruise control is great for stop and go traffic. Also it provides a safer drive during rush hour traffic, where speeds consistently vary.

Since radar cruise control usually comes with a collision avoidance system, even if the cruise control function is not turned on, it is expected to help alleviate human error from driving. As technology progresses, adaptive cruise control development will be crucial to fully autonomous vehicles. In order to be fully autonomous, the technology will need to focus on tracking not only other vehicles but roadway signs and other infrastructure like railway crossings too. While adaptive cruise control may be available today amongst many popular automotive manufacturers, it will be interesting to see how its advancements play into the self driving car evolution.

About the Author

Kandace Parks first grew to love writing about the automotive industry in 2013 while writing vehicle reviews for a Canadian based company. Eventually getting hired on full time, Kandace had the opportunity to learn more about the latest technology used by many popular automotive manufacturers, which fueled her passion even more. When Kandace isn’t writing she is on an adventure, or at the very least plotting her next one.