The evolution of cruise control

- With automated features increasingly becoming a staple of modern cars, cruise control may not sound like the most modern car component. However, its invention marked the start of driverless vehicles.

Cruise control is designed to make the driving experience safer and more comfortable, whilst also being economical and saving on fuel costs. It is most useful on long drives on motorways, or roads with less traffic as it reduces driver fatigue and ensures that the vehicle stays within the speed limits.

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What is cruise control and how does it work?

Cruise control is an advanced system designed to automatically control the speed of a vehicle, often by maintaining a pace pre-set by the driver. It is most useful on long drives on motorways or roads with less traffic as it reduces driver fatigue. Drivers can easily shift into more comfortable positions without needing to keep their foot on the pedal.

Cruise control is activated with a button or lever in the car cockpit, usually on the steering wheel. The driver holds their foot steadily on the accelerator pedal so it doesn’t drop its speed. When they’ve activated cruise control they can take their foot off the pedal and a gauge light will indicate that the system is active. Repressing the button or pressing the brakes will turn off the system and put the driver back in control of the accelerator.

Advanced Smart Cruise Control in the Hyundai i30 automatically applies the brake when traffic stops or the car in front slows

Early cruise control

While speed control was used in automobiles as far back as the beginning of the twentieth century, modern cruise control was invented in 1948 by the American engineer Ralph Teetor. The idea came to him while riding as a passenger in a car driven by his lawyer, who kept speeding up and slowing down every time he talked.

Having been a pioneer of automatic transmission, Teetor was already experienced with vehicle mechanisms, so he set about designing a solution to his lawyer’s driving habits. The result was a system that calculated ground speed based on the rotations of the vehicle’s driveshaft and used a bi-directional screw-drive electric motor to vary throttle position as needed.

In 1950, Teetor managed to secure a patent for a “speed control device for resisting operation of the accelerator”, and cruise control as we know it was born. By the 1960s, cars from every manufacturer featured a form of cruise control.

Modern cruise control

By the early 1990s, car manufacturers began using advanced digital technology to build on Teetor’s analogue approach. LiDAR, radar, sonar and camera-based solutions have become a staple of modern cars, allowing them to sense other vehicles in order to determine speed, as well as detecting and avoiding collisions, maintaining lane positions and predicting the behaviour of other vehicles.

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Hyundai’s Smart Cruise Control

The All-New Kona Electric features Smart Cruise Control (SCC) with Stop & Go. This goes further than standard cruise control by incorporating advanced safety features such as automatic braking. It uses front radar sensors to maintain a constant speed and distance from the vehicle ahead by automatically accelerating and braking.

If traffic comes to a halt, the Stop & Go system applies the brake until the car comes to a standstill and accelerates to the desired speed as soon as the road is clear. If the vehicle stops for longer than three seconds, the driver has to activate the system again with the steering wheel controls or by briefly pressing the accelerator pedal.