Frankfurt, Germany –The technology company Continental took the opportunity of the 1969 IAA – better known as the Frankfurt Motor Show – to present the world premiere of the MK I, the first anti-lock brake system (ABS), which was developed by ITT-Teves.
The idea of preventing the wheels from locking when a car was braking hard so that the car could continue to be steered had occurred to vehicle designers in the 1920s, but a solution to the problem only emerged with the development of powerful electronics. Starting in 1965, engineers at Teves (later ITT-Teves) – the company became part of Continental in 1998 – worked on an anti-lock brake system for passenger cars.
Starting in the 1970s, integrated circuits based on analog circuit technology were used to regulate brake pressure and, in this way, prevent the wheels from locking.
Series production took a number of years until a microprocessor was added
The technology was initially used in 36 test vehicles for the Swedish police. Series production started in 1984, following the launch of the Mk II, the world’s first microprocessor-controlled ABS for passenger cars. In North America it was available on the Lincoln Continental.
Helmut Fennel, who at the time held a key function in promoting the use of microprocessors for ABS, explained this advantage: “Due to its programmability, our system could be quickly and optimally validated both for braking maneuvers on rough roads, that is, with a high coefficient of friction, and for those on slippery roads, such as on ice in winter. It was also considerably more flexible than other solutions and could therefore be quickly adapted to different vehicle concepts, such as models with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The microprocessor solution gave us a head start of several years.”
ABS as a central safety system
The MK II was the first ABS on the market to combine the brake function, brake booster, hydraulic control and anti-lock brake system into one compact unit. A traction control system (TCS) was also integrated shortly afterward. An important milestone in the development of ABS was the later MK IV system, which went into series production in 1989 and for the first time included an electronic brake force distribution system, making mechanical-hydraulic components superfluous. Continental’s developers took another developmental leap forward in 1995, when electronic stability control (ESC) was integrated into the MK 20 system. For the first time In this new arrangement, which has become the worldwide standard, the engine is located at the top, the valve block in the middle and the electronics below, more or less as the base. Continental anti-lock brake systems are still based on this principle, with the modularity of the equipment variants (ABS, ABS + TCS, ESC) optimally meeting customer requirements.
An ABS today is equipped with up to 50 additional and safety functions, such as the automatic release of the parking brake when starting off, hill start assist or as a component of adaptive cruise-control systems. And all that in just two kilograms (4.4 pounds) and taking up the same amount of space as a single-lens reflex camera. The first production-ready ABS from Continental was the size of a 5-liter (1.3-gallon) gas can and weighed 11.5 kilograms (25.3 pounds).
During the past 50 years, ABS has become the universal chassis control system for longitudinal and lateral dynamics as a result of further developments that led to the ESC. Since the system can individually control the braking force for each wheel, it is indispensable for current and future cross-vehicle control systems. It is also a condition for further safety technologies such as driver assistance systems and enables the next steps towards automated driving.
ABS is the “mother of all chassis control systems,” says Continental developer Jürgen Woywod, who is working on future generations of brake systems. The future of this technology will mainly be determined by software innovations – for more comfort and even more safety. Woywod was also on the team that applied Continental’s ABS technology to motorcycles and put it on the road for the first time in 2006.
ABS technology saves innumerable lives
The introduction of ABS has significantly improved road safety, with other factors such as the safety belt and the introduction of speed limits also playing a role. Since 2004, the system has been required by law for all new cars throughout Europe. Since the introduction of the first systems at the end of the 1970s, the total number of people killed in road traffic in Germany has fallen by 80 percent.
Continental develops pioneering technologies and services for the sustainable and connected mobility of people and their goods. Founded in 1871, the technology company offers safe, efficient, intelligent and affordable solutions for vehicles, machines, traffic and transportation. In 2018, Continental generated sales of €44.4 billion and currently employs more than 244,000 people in 60 countries and markets.
The Chassis & Safety division develops and produces integrated active and passive driving safety technologies as well as products that support vehicle dynamics. The product portfolio ranges from electronic and hydraulic brake and chassis control systems to sensors, advanced driver assistance systems, airbag electronics and sensor technology as well as electronic suspension systems all the way to windshield washer systems and headlight cleaning nozzles. The focus lies on a high level of systems expertise and the interconnectivity of individual components. Thus products and system functions are developed along the SensePlanAct chain of effects. They form the foundation for automated driving. Chassis & Safety employs more than 49,500 people worldwide and generated sales of approximately €9.6 billion in 2018.