In the Future, Emergency Brakes Suck (Literally)

Source: Autoliv
Source: Autoliv

In the beginning, there were brake shoes, and they were good. But over time man saw that these shoes did not work so well in the front of the vehicle, so calipers and rotors were born. After a while anti-lock brakes came into existence, along with brake assist, electronic brake distribution, collision avoidance braking, and a slew of other technologies all designed to keep the driver safely in control at all times. And it was good.

But not excellent.

Brakes are an extremely crucial component in a car’s genetic make-up, and yet somehow we tend to take them for granted until we realize that there is a half-ton heifer in the road and it’s impossible to swerve out of the way in time. So appreciate that pedal, give your brake master cylinder reservoir a quick splash of fresh fluid, and get those pads and rotors inspected from time to time. Remember, the only thing keeping you from plowing headlong into poor old Daisy is your car’s ability to stop, and the better your brakes are the lesser your chances are of clobbering the cud out of her.

To help further reduce one’s chances of committing vehicular bovine slaughter, Swedish safety specialists Autoliv have just come out with a braking system that is incredibly effective. Named after the 17th century Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli, who was known for inventing the barometer and his extended study of generating a vacuum, the Torricelli brake is an incredibly simplistic design that reduces braking distances by up to 40% at lower speeds by tapping into the latter of Torricelli’s two specialties.

Originally developed for significantly reducing stopping distance for Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) systems, Autoliv says this innovation of theirs could revolutionize traffic safety in urban environments. The company also claims that many car collisions are caused by “late braking with insufficient force,” and that distracted driving is typically at the heart of an accident in some form or another. So instead of working on an area of the car that has already been thoroughly over-designed, Autoliv decided to go a different route and give us a giant deployable vacuum that makes sucks onto the road to bring the vehicle to a stop.

This technology was first developed at Autoliv’s research plant in Vårgårda, Sweden, and has proven that a vacuum-induced plate underneath a vehicle will considerably enhance a vehicle’s stopping power, regardless of what climate one is driving in at the time. Tested on both wet and dry asphalt, as well as on ice, the system suction-cups Autoliv’s test vehicle to a sudden halt every time with a 40% stopping distance reduction, regardless of what road conditions were like.

Connected to the automatic braking system (which is rigged to detect hazards ahead), the patented product utilizes a reinforced vacuum plate at the rear of the vehicle that automatically activates in a 10th of a second to produces an insane amount of downforce and bring the car to a complete stop. To see how quickly and efficiently this system works be sure to check out Autoliv’s video, as it shows exactly how the system works.

Source: Autoliv
Source: Autoliv

This brake system works so well that Autoliv had to put a 43-mile per hour speed limit on the system due to fears of neck injuries at higher speeds. According to Autoliv, this just means that for the time being the Torricelli brake will be applicable in urban environments, where inattentive children and cyclists must be avoided. Ola Boström, head of Autoliv Research, says that “the main hindrance for car manufacturer implementation of the Torricelli brake is simply that it is too efficient. In order to complement existing safety equipment, other safety details such as belt tighteners also need to be updated – due to the major braking force of the Torricelli brake system.”

So the brake system works really well (too well even), and it appears to be relatively straightforward when it comes to installation. So what are the downsides to this thing, because there are bound to be at least a few? Immediate qualms are that any vacuum system of such a caliber will likely take up quite a bit of room, so Autoliv is going to have to find a way to keep this thing from taking over the entire trunk with boosters and hoses. We also wonder how much an add-on like this would run on a production vehicle — it sure doesn’t look cheap, and unless they want to take the IKEA route and have everything built in China, Autoliv is going to find itself catering exclusively to the high-end market.

“I don’t want to speculate on whether the industry is ready to embrace the Torricelli brake, but so far we have showcased the system for a small number of manufacturers and we have gained substantial interest with this latest innovation,” Ola finishes. “Even if there are several steps ahead before the Torricelli brake can be put into full-scale production, this is undoubtedly an example of how future innovations can revolutionize traffic safety and save more lives, in particular in urban environments.”