RE: PH Origins: Cruise control

RE: PH Origins: Cruise control

Monday 5th February

PH Origins: Cruise control

America's highways and byways may have given rise to cruise control - but making the driver's life easier wasn't necessarily the aim



In the early 1930s, engineer Samuel G. Frantz noticed that inadvertent speeding was occurring more often on American roads. The issue appeared most prominent in areas that had both rough and smooth roads; drivers would abide by the limit on poor surfaces but on better roads build up speed 'without realising it'.

New technology was among the reasons for the rise in speeding, concluded Frantz. Suspension systems were getting more advanced, coping with bumps better, and engines were more refined and potent. Consequently, it was far easier for a driver to unknowingly achieve an 'excessive rate'.

The solution proposed by Frantz was a 'speed control device' that would allow a driver to more easily and efficiently maintain a vehicle's speed. It would need to be easily overridden, so the driver could take control when required, and function unobtrusively.


By January 1932, Frantz - who worked at electronics specialist RCA - had invented a series of concepts that fulfilled his criteria. In its simplest form, a governor-driven system would effectively nudge the driver's foot if the speed wandered from a predetermined value; more complicated versions could regulate fuel or air flow to further help maintain the right speed. One proposal even included a modification to a speedometer which would effectively add a 'target speed' indicator to its outside edge.

All required the driver to keep their foot on the pedal and couldn't function unassisted, but many basic cruise concepts - including overriding the target speed by accelerating - were established by Frantz. Seemingly, despite receiving a patent in 1937, he took his idea no further. This was presumably because, at the time, he was otherwise fully occupied establishing a new company to design and produce magnetic separators for industrial applications.

Later, in May 1942, fuel rationing was enforced in 17 states in America to aid the war-related demands on the country's resources. By the end of 1942, fuel was rationed in all 50 states. The rationing of this vital lifeblood wasn't driven by an outright requirement to just preserve fuel, however - it was also designed to cut down America's rubber consumption.

Because Japan had taken control of Southeast Asia's rubber-producing zones - which had previously supplied the Allies - America was sorely lacking in the rubber necessary for the production of military vehicles and equipment. Synthetic rubber production was limited, too, so ways to prevent wastage were quickly brought into play. Less fuel meant less civilian travel, for starters, reducing consumption of both fuel and rubber.

Similarly, a nationwide 'Victory' speed limit of 35mph was introduced to reduce both tyre and fuel consumption. Many disliked the lower limits, however, either finding them incredibly boring or difficult to stick to.


Engineer Ralph Teetor had - like Frantz - observed the inability of many drivers to maintain a constant speed. He was, in the early 30s, a partner of the American parts manufacturer 'Teetor-Hartley Motor Company'; it would later be rebranded 'Perfect Circle' and Teetor would become its president.

Teetor, reputedly due to the low 'Victory limit' that many struggled to maintain and the need to save resources, set about working on a speed control system. This was later stated by his daughter; the story was originally that Teetor, who had been blind since a young age, disliked the rocking motion experienced when drivers continually changed their speed - which motivated him to develop a speed control system.

It took some time for him to develop a reliable system, in any case, and he finally submitted a patent - which referenced Frantz's earlier work - in August 1948. It was granted two years later and, following several further years of development, the Perfect Circle 'Speedostat' was born. The first production set-up was introduced in 1957 and, in 1958, it graced the Chrysler Imperial - in which it was dubbed 'Auto-pilot'.


Like Frantz's earlier concept, the Speedostat offered haptic feedback. You chose your speed with a dial on the dash and, once reached, the pedal would stiffen to stop you accelerating further unintentionally. If you needed to go faster, you simply pushed through the 'barrier'. Or, if you wanted to take your foot off the pedal - a key feature of a modern cruise system - you would simply hit a 'hold' button. The road speed would be obtained from a sensor reading the rotation rate of the driveshaft, while an electric motor would vary the throttle position to maintain the target speed.

Other manufacturers soon began buying the Speedostat and rebranding it for use in their cars; Cadillac called it 'Cruise Control', Chevrolet 'Speed and Cruise Control', and both Lincoln and Mercury named it 'Speed Control'.

It is worth mentioning that both Frantz and Teetor's approaches were indirectly preceded by some older technology, including a set-up found in the Wilson-Pilcher automobile of the early 1900s - which featured a governor-controlled engine. This, effectively, would maintain a set engine speed and function as a rudimentary form of cruise control. As Teetor had observed, however, these set-ups had issues that included definite speed limitations, the requirement to disable the governor to exceed set speeds and a limited degree of flexibility.


Teetor's production cruise control system, with its driver-adjustable speed, easy override and no requirement for pedal applications resolved all of those issues. It was also praised for making long journeys less tiring, improving concentration on the road and, in some cases, reducing fuel consumption.

When the oil crisis of 1973 struck, manufacturers touted the fuel-saving potentials of cruise control systems - which were offered by several companies by this point - and the system subsequently flooded into the wider market.

 

Author
Discussion

BFleming

Original Poster:

659 posts

75 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
My company sponsored an advanced driving course maybe a decade ago, and the instructor advocated the use of cruise control in almost any circumstances - urban driving, motorway cruising, driving in congestion. It took a little getting used to, but nowadays on 30mph roads, some that you would easily think should have 40 limits, I use cruise.
And before anyone mentions the Winnebago cruise control lawsuit, there wasn't one! It's an urban myth that went viral, and isn't true!

tim milne

240 posts

165 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
Surely the most interesting thing about this is that it's an easy thing to do with fly-by-wire throttle systems controlled by computer, but in fact originates in a far older, mechanical technology. Nowadays, it's a feature enabled by software a few cheap, generic buttons, which must cost, er, buttons, but it must have been costly to install in a sixties car

Swampy1982

1,167 posts

43 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
another enjoyable read about the origins of something i use everyday, keep um coming!

Krikkit

12,698 posts

113 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
tim milne said:
Surely the most interesting thing about this is that it's an easy thing to do with fly-by-wire throttle systems controlled by computer, but in fact originates in a far older, mechanical technology. Nowadays, it's a feature enabled by software a few cheap, generic buttons, which must cost, er, buttons, but it must have been costly to install in a sixties car
We had a late-90s Subaru Legacy with cruise, which made modern systems look a doddle.

Under the bonnet was an electronically-controlled vacuum valve which operated the throttle linkage independently of the actual pedal - you could feel it adjusting the throttle as you drove along if you put your foot gently on the pedal. A very good system, but immensely complex compared to a DBW throttle system.

sticks090460

724 posts

90 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
I use cruise control the whole time. I've never had a speeding ticket in 40 years of driving. I think these facts may well be related.
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Jimmy Recard

14,636 posts

111 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
Unimportant, but there wasn’t a 1957 Chrysler Imperial. There was a 1957 Imperial though

Rich Boy Spanner

85 posts

62 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
I use CC a lot, and wish others would too to stop the endless random car speed up/slow down on UK motorways. Makes overtaking a real chore.

Lewis Kingston

147 posts

9 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
Krikkit said:
We had a late-90s Subaru Legacy with cruise, which made modern systems look a doddle.
I think I have the very same set-up in my '03 Forester. Question - when you engage cruise in the Legacy, is there a noticeable delay between setting the speed and it actually maintaining it? Noticed that mine bleeds off a few mph before the cruise picks up the throttle again; a minor thing, but it is a tad annoying.

Always found the early Bosch ASR stability system in C4 Corvettes quite entertaining on the pedal front; if the car broke traction, the accelerator pedal would push back against your foot (while the system regulated the throttle) in an effort to prevent you overspeeding further. Quite a neat feature.

5lab

1,459 posts

128 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
Does anyone know why you have to turn cruise control 'on' in most cars?

I get why you have to set/cancel/speed up/down but not why you have to turn the damn system on every time you get in the car - why doesn't 'set speed' automatically do this? I know vauxhalls don't have an on/off thing, but most others do?

Mr2Mike

19,587 posts

187 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
sticks090460 said:
I use cruise control the whole time. I've never had a speeding ticket in 40 years of driving. I think these facts may well be related.
"The whole time" simply isn't feasible. I also doubt doubt your lack of speeding tickets are related to the use of cruise control unless you genuinely have no ability to regulate the speed of a car yourself. I've not had a ticket in 20 years, and until a few months ago I'd never owned a car with cruise control.

Rich Boy Spanner said:
I use CC a lot, and wish others would too to stop the endless random car speed up/slow down on UK motorways. Makes overtaking a real chore.
I agree, but I also wish people using cruise control would learn to pass other traffic at a reasonable rate. People regularly attempt to creep past me at ~0.5mph, not so bad if the road is clear but greatly annoying if you are approaching traffic.

TurboHatchback

3,262 posts

85 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
The system in my old Mercedes C126 was rather amusing. Before DBW throttles most manufacturers used a cable, not so Mercedes who had used a fantastically complex arrangement of moving steel rods, pivots and ball joints to connect the pedal to the throttle. The cruise control consisted of a big metal box of electronics, probably 8" by 4" by 2", driving a mechanical actuator which moved the whole pedal and consequently all the rods etc to the throttle. It certainly worked well after I had replaced all the 25yr old electrolytic capacitors with new ones.

Jimmy Recard

14,636 posts

111 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
Mr2Mike said:
I agree, but I also wish people using cruise control would learn to pass other traffic at a reasonable rate. People regularly attempt to creep past me at ~0.5mph, not so bad if the road is clear but greatly annoying if you are approaching traffic.
Also annoying is when you overtake using cruise control and the car you overtake just accelerates to keep its bumper level with your rear wheels

ChilliWhizz

8,472 posts

93 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
Mr2Mike said:
I agree, but I also wish people using cruise control would learn to pass other traffic at a reasonable rate. People regularly attempt to creep past me at ~0.5mph, not so bad if the road is clear but greatly annoying if you are approaching traffic.
Totally agree....
Also I bought the first car I've ever owned that has cruise control 15 months ago, and it's brilliant, and used regularly. Don't know how other systems work, but I can accelerate and decelerate the car with buttons on the steering wheel smile

The Don of Croy

4,592 posts

91 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
On a 1960's model Fiat 500 there was a rudimentary speed control - a cable clamp operated down near the handbrake lever that simply held the throttle cable in one position. Simples.

As told to me by my bro's GF in 1981 when she was driving that absurd little motor. (Or cheeky if you prefer)

milesr3

229 posts

143 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
I also tend to use cruise control a lot of the time if the traffic is not too heavy and you are able to pass slower cars and get out of the way of anyone going faster without holding anyone up.

However I find the ability to limit the speed more useful, on a 'smart' motorway for example to avoid inadvertently speeding. It has the benefit of improving the mpg as well, rather than cruise control which seems to make mpg poorer.

Alex_225

2,718 posts

133 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
5lab said:
I get why you have to set/cancel/speed up/down but not why you have to turn the damn system on every time you get in the car - why doesn't 'set speed' automatically do this? I know Vauxhalls don't have an on/off thing, but most others do?
The system in my old E Class is effectively always on and you just push the lever up on the left of the steering column for it to match the speed you're at. Very useful. Seems a lot of the Mercs of that era have the same.

I have cruise control on a Megane 225 which bizarrely has a switch on the bottom right of the dash which toggles a speed limiter or cruise. Once you choose which you want, you can then use the buttons on the steering wheel. The switch is not comprehensive at all but it's a rocker switch so doesn't turn off with the car.

sgtBerbatov

715 posts

13 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
sticks090460 said:
I use cruise control the whole time. I've never had a speeding ticket in 40 years of driving. I think these facts may well be related.
All but one of the cars I've ever owned never had cruise control, and I've never had a speeding ticket in nearly 10 years of driving.

I think paying attention to speed limit signs on the road has more to do with it than having a fancy gizmo on your car!

Rawwr

20,183 posts

166 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
I use the speed limiter rather than cruise these days. Cruise only ever comes on if I'm on a really quiet major road, which is pretty rare.

Winky151

1,174 posts

73 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
5lab said:
I know vauxhalls don't have an on/off thing, but most others do?
The cruise on both my VXR8 & my wifes Adam S have to be turned on by pressing a button on the steering wheel before then pressing another button to activate the system.

Shakermaker

6,668 posts

32 months

Monday 5th February
quotequote all
5lab said:
Does anyone know why you have to turn cruise control 'on' in most cars?

I get why you have to set/cancel/speed up/down but not why you have to turn the damn system on every time you get in the car - why doesn't 'set speed' automatically do this? I know vauxhalls don't have an on/off thing, but most others do?
It isn't really that much of a chore though, is it, having to accelerate to your chosen speed and then hitting the "set" button?

Surely it would be dangerous to just press a button which remembers that last time you had the CC on, it was set to 70mph, and you hit it just outside a school, at pick up time....!