When Lincoln's new three-row Aviator SUV is launched in the summer, engineers hope it will be one of the quietest-running vehicles in its class. The key is a clever new adaptive suspension system with a function called Road Preview. As you may have just seen from the name, it looks at the road and uses this information along with the more normal sensor inputs to constantly adjust the stiffness of the dampers in anticipation of large bumps or potholes.
The suspension of a vehicle is often required to satisfy more than one master. On the one hand, it is his job to optimize the footprint of each tire as much as possible to ensure good handling and good roadholding. But it must also absorb all bumps and filter out all the bumps of the road to ensure the ride comfort. For decades, this meant a lot of compromise when it came to setting up springs, dampers and the rest of the parts that attach the wheels to the car. Enthusiasts could buy adjustable dampers, though the setting usually meant shutting off, bonnet popping, and breaking out a wrench.
The idea of a suspension system that could respond to different driving conditions while driving extends at least to the hydro-pneumatic Citroens of the 1950s, but it was really the advent of electronic control that made the technology possible. Toyota started the idea of using the Soarer, a domestic coupe, in the early 1980s. It will know more about its use in Formula 1, where it was introduced by Lotus Colin Chapman, who was looking for a new unfair advantage. In 1992, the Williams F1 team refined the concept so well that its FW14B was almost unbeatable and the sport then banned the technology.
Since then, adaptive suspension has become more prevalent in road vehicles of sporty or luxurious character (or both). Sometimes with computer-controlled valves, sometimes with magnetorheological fluids, to change the stiffness.
But in most cases, systems that rely on inputs from wheel sensors and accelerometers several times per second are still only really reactive. Would not it be better if the car was announced in advance?
This Lincoln system, which is similar to the one Audi adds to its A8 flagship sedan in Europe, uses the vehicle's predictive camera to stay one step ahead of the game. It constantly reads the road up to 15 m ahead and can detect deviations in the road surface between 50 and 200 mm above or below the expected road surface. This will allow the car to prepare in advance the corresponding damper (and the air spring if the car has this option) for a large pothole or frost blow, which in turn means that the ride inside should be smoother.
It's not the world's most automotive technological development, but it's a nice way to use an existing sensor to deliver a feature that engineers have dreamed of for decades.
Listing image by Lincoln