What Is Adaptive Cruise Control?

The coolest technologies for today’s luxury cars often become features of mainstream cars tomorrow. Take cruise control as an example; Today almost every new car has it, with the exception of specialized performance models and basic trims of entry-level cars. But what is adaptive cruise control? And is it worth it?

What Is Adaptive Cruise Control?

Adaptive cruise control (ACC) is a system designed to help vehicles maintain a safe following distance and stay within the speed limit. This system adjusts a car’s speed automatically so drivers don’t have to.

Adaptive cruise control is one of 20 terms used to describe its functions so you might see adaptive cruise controls as the following in advertisements and vehicle descriptions: “Active cruise controls, Dynamic cruise controls, Radar cruise controls, Automatic cruise controls, Intelligent cruise controls.”

The control is based on sensor information from onboard sensors. Such systems may use a radar or laser sensor or camera array that allows the vehicle to brake when it detects the car is approaching another vehicle in front, and then accelerate when traffic permits.

ACC technology is widely recognized as a key component of future generations of intelligent cars. They affect driver safety and comfort and increase road capacity by maintaining optimal separation between vehicles and reducing driver errors.

Vehicles with autonomous cruise control are considered Level 1 autonomous cars as defined by SAE International. In combination with another driver assistance function such as lane centering, the vehicle is considered a level 2 autonomous vehicle.

Adaptive cruise controls does not offer full autonomy: the system only provides some assistance to the driver but does not drive the car itself.

Related: What is Cruise Control?

Adaptive cruise control

How adaptive cruise control works?

By monitoring other vehicles and objects on the road, adaptive cruise control enables a safe and comfortable driving experience.

Adaptive cruise control (ACC) is an active safety system that automatically controls the acceleration and braking of a vehicle. It is activated through a button on the steering wheel and canceled by the driver’s braking and/or another button. It does so by helping the driver keep a steady vehicle speed at a given moment.

The driver can set his preferences for certain factors such as the distance to the vehicle in front, driving mode, for example economical, sporty or comfortable, and others. Along with information about speed limits, road curvature, accident data, and more, these decisions affect the auto-selected speed.

Cruise control has come a long way since its inception to assist drivers on the road. When it was first introduced, it was only found in luxury car models due to its high cost of production. Adaptive cruise control is now becoming a standard feature in new vehicles as lower-cost sensors became available.

What are the types of adaptive cruise control?

There are two main types of adaptive cruise controls: laser-based systems and radar-based systems.

Whichever system your car uses, the basic functionality remains the same, with radar or lasers constantly scanning the road ahead for obstacles. Some cars have two radars or lasers: one to cover obstacles near the vehicle and one to cover further distances of up to around 200m.

1. Radar-Based Systems

Radar-based systems work by placing radar-based sensors on or around plastic trim to detect your vehicle’s surroundings. Each radar sensor works together to create a comprehensive picture of the vehicle’s proximity to other cars or potentially dangerous objects. This type of sensor can look different depending on the design and model of the car.

2. Laser-Based Systems

This type of ACC system operates from a large black box, typically placed in your vehicle’s front grille. It uses laser technology to detect the proximity of objects to your car. It doesn’t work well in rainstorms and other weather conditions.

3. Binocular Computer Vision Systems (Optical)

This is a relatively new ACC system that started operating in 2013. It uses small cameras mounted on the back of a vehicle’s rearview mirror to detect forward-facing objects.

4. Assisting Systems

Assistance systems are radar-based add-ons that customers can buy together. These pre-crash systems can provide lane control, brake assist, cruise control, proximity alerts to objects such as corners, and steering power.

5. Multi-Sensor Systems

Adaptive cruise control systems sometimes integrate more than one type of sensor to aid in the operation of a vehicle. Multi-sensor systems include several different types of sensors to provide enhanced information to a driver. These sensors may include GPS data devices or cameras to gather information about a vehicle’s geographic surroundings and proximity to other cars.

6. Predictive Systems

Prediction systems are a type of ACC that uses sensory data to predict the actions of nearby vehicles. This means your car may slow down to prepare for another vehicle suddenly changing lanes, thereby promoting passenger safety.

How Much Does an Adaptive Cruise Control System Cost?

The cost of an adaptive cruise control system will vary depending on how many features you want. If you’re going to have an ACC with all available features, you should be willing to pay anywhere between $2000 and $2500.

If you are looking for minimal cruise control that would benefit speeds of up to 20-25 miles per hour, these more basic ACCs can cost as low as $500. The good news is that as ACC becomes more common, it will most likely reduce in price.

Is Adaptive Cruise Control Worth It?

If your commute is long and you think you can learn to trust technology (while always being alert and ready to take over immediately when needed), adaptive cruise control could be a very worthwhile upgrade.

Leaving the car on the accelerator and brakes for most of your commute home from work can greatly reduce the stress associated with driving. However, if a system is equipped with driving logic that bites the brake too hard when stopping, or allows too much clearance in the tightest setting, you may find that for the rest of the time you only use the technology once and never again own car

Advantages of Adaptive Cruise Control

Despite being an unnerving system to engage with at first, adaptive cruise control contains 3 compelling benefits compared to normal driving:

  • Convenience: On long journeys, adaptive cruise control can help drivers relax and be able to rely on their car for some time without having to take their eyes off the road completely. If you have the traffic jam assistant, ACC can also make your daily commute immensely less stressful.
  • Speed Consistency: ACC can move your car at a constant speed within legal limits. This can be especially helpful when driving on the road, when an open freeway and other distractions can cause you to press harder on the accelerator.
  • Fuel Efficiency: Driving style is one of the main factors affecting fuel economy. Constantly adjusting the speed burns more fuel. ACC uses the accelerator and brake systems only when absolutely necessary.

Disadvantages of Adaptive Cruise Control

However good a system is, it will also have its cons. If you are using cruise control, you should be cautious, because some of the disadvantages can be catastrophic.

  • You can over-relax. Adaptive cruise control was developed primarily to reduce the driver’s driving stress. However, with the system doing much of the work, a driver can become disconnected from the road, which in turn can reduce their awareness. This means if the car in front brakes suddenly or an animal suddenly crosses the lane, you may not be able to react in time. The fact that the driver is unable to react effectively to changing road conditions makes it dangerous.
  • Technology may fail. Although some improvements have been made to the adaptive cruise control used in modern vehicles, the technology can still let you down at times. For example, if the cruise control fails, it can be almost impossible to brake your car. Although these cases are rare, the fact remains that they can occur. This makes it dangerous, especially if the vehicle you are driving is an older model.