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Anti-lock Braking System or ABS, as we commonly know it, is now 40 years old! Found that interesting? How about the fact that ABS was first tested on aircraft and railways! Yes, the first form of 'anti-slipping' systems were experimented and implemented in rail and aviation industries during the mid-50s, including Royal Air Force fighter planes, the Concorde and a lot of diesel locomotives.
However, the initial form of ABS as we know today was introduced on a W116 Mercedes-Benz S-Class in 1978. It became the first ‘four-wheel multi-channel anti-lock brake system' which would soon revolutionise the automotive industry. The system was developed by Bosch and Daimler.
What Does ABS Actually Do?
If you think ABS improves the braking efficiency of a vehicle, you're not entirely correct. ABS is just there to prevent the wheels from locking up. In fact, a car installed with ABS might actually require more distance to come to a complete stop, when compared to a non-ABS car. But that is only if the terrain offers good grip or the roads are dry. However, on wet roads, chances of the wheels to get locked up are particularly high.
If the wheels do get locked up during a high-speed braking situation, the car will only go on a straight line even if the driver tries to steer it back to control (the wheels will turn but the car won't). If ABS is present, the wheels can gradually rotate under heavy braking and the driver can regain his/her control on the steering.
Hence, ABS actually helps more in steering the car rather than slowing it down.
You can know more about the working of ABS – here.
Back To History
Daimler began developing a system to prevent wheels from skidding back in 1953. Hans Scherenberg, then head of design at Mercedes-Benz, was the main person behind the patented automotive innovation. During the development phase, the main challenge was that road-going vehicles required more sensors and faster data processing compared to aircraft and locomotives. The system needed to collect data at a rapid pace during all driving conditions: acceleration, deceleration, cornering, bad roads and dirty terrain.
After almost 10 years, Daimler-Benz started works on their first ‘electro-hydraulic braking control system'. In 1966, the German company partnered with the Heidelberg-based electronics specialist, Teldix (later acquired by Bosch) to develop the ‘Mercedes-Benz/Teldix Anti-Bloc System'. It was premiered in 1970 at a test track in Untertürkheim, Germany.
Meanwhile, in the same time period, a lot of other automotive brands started developing their own versions of ABS. Chrysler, co-developing with Bendix Corporation, introduced the 1971 Imperial with their ‘Sure Brake‘ system. Ford, on the other hand, debuted ‘Sure-Track' as a single-channel rear unit on the Lincoln Continental models (Lincoln Motor Company is owned by Ford).
General Motors (GM) also came to the picture in 1972 with their ‘Trackmaster' – a single-channel rear unitavailable in various Cadillac and Oldsmobile models. Even, Toyota and Nissan made their own iterations of the system.
However, it was Mercedes-Benz who pioneered the project with the use of electronics and microprocessors. Head of the ABS project, Jürgen Paul, mastered the implementation of a digital controller; a requirement for mass-producing the system.
Finally, in 1978, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was introduced to the world while saying goodbye to wheel lockup, uncontrollable spins and fatal understeer. ABS was quite a breakthrough in the automotive world and it gave justice to Mercedes's slogan back then — "Engineered Like No Other Car In The World".
This is what the press note said when Daimler and Bosch showcased the system in August, 1978:
"The anti-lock braking system uses a computer to monitor the change in rotational speed of each wheel during braking. If the speed slows too quickly (such as when braking on a slippery surface) and the wheel risks locking, the computer automatically reduces the brake pressure. The wheel accelerates again and the brake pressure is increased again, thereby braking the wheel. This process is repeated several times in a matter of seconds."
The most notable innovation in the field of automotive safety was born.
Thoughts On The History Of ABS
The ABS unit we see and use today has advanced a lot when compared to the original W116 S-Class version. Even the government in most countries have made ABS as a mandatory addition in all new cars (motorcycles too in some regions). A lot of safety features such EBA (Electronic Brake-force Distribution), TCS (Traction Control System), Corner Stability and various other driving modes are based on ABS – the system aimed to do just one thing — prevent the wheels from locking up.