Anti-lock braking system (ABS) is an automobile safety system that allows the wheels on a motor vehicle to maintain tractive contact with the road surface according to driver inputs while braking, preventing the wheels from locking up (ceasing rotation) and avoiding uncontrolled skidding. It is an automated system that uses the principles of threshold braking and cadence braking which were practiced by skillful drivers with previous generation braking systems. It does this at a much faster rate and with better control than a driver could manage.
ABS generally offers improved vehicle control and decreases stopping distances on dry and slippery surfaces for many drivers; however, on loose surfaces like gravel or snow-covered pavement, ABS can significantly increase braking distance, although still improving vehicle control.
Since initial widespread use in production cars, anti-lock braking systems have evolved considerably. Recent versions not only prevent wheel lock under braking, but also electronically control the front-to-rear brake bias. This function, depending on its specific capabilities and implementation, is known as electronic brake force distribution(EBD), traction control system, emergency brake assist, or electronic stability control(ESC).
The anti-lock brake controller is also known as the CAB (Controller Anti-lock Brake).
Typically ABS includes a central electronic control unit (ECU), four wheel speed sensors, and at least two hydraulic valves within the brake hydraulics. The ECU constantly monitors the rotational speed of each wheel; if it detects a wheel rotating significantly slower than the others, a condition indicative of impending wheel lock, it actuates the valves to reduce hydraulic pressure to the brake at the affected wheel, thus reducing the braking force on that wheel; the wheel then turns faster.
Conversely, if the ECU detects a wheel turning significantly faster than the others, brake hydraulic pressure to the wheel is increased so the braking force is reapplied, slowing down the wheel. This process is repeated continuously and can be detected by the driver via brake pedal pulsation. Some anti-lock systems can apply or release braking pressure 15 times per second . Because of this, the wheels of cars equipped with ABS are practically impossible to lock even during panic braking in extreme conditions.
The ECU is programmed to disregard differences in wheel rotative speed below a critical threshold, because when the car is turning, the two wheels towards the center of the curve turn slower than the outer two. For this same reason, a differential is used in virtually all roadgoing vehicles. If a fault develops in any part of the ABS, a warning light will usually be illuminated on the vehicle instrument panel, and the ABS will be disabled until the fault is rectified.
Modern ABS applies individual brake pressure to all four wheels through a control system of hub-mounted sensors and a dedicated micro-controller. ABS is offered or comes standard on most road vehicles produced today and is the foundation for electronic stability control systems, which are rapidly increasing in popularity due to the vast reduction in price of vehicle electronics over the years.
Modern electronic stability control systems are an evolution of the ABS concept. Here, a minimum of two additional sensors are added to help the system work: these are a steering wheel angle sensor, and a gyroscopic sensor. The theory of operation is simple: when the gyroscopic sensor detects that the direction taken by the car does not coincide with what the steering wheel sensor reports, the ESC software will brake the necessary individual wheel(s) (up to three with the most sophisticated systems), so that the vehicle goes the way the driver intends. The steering wheel sensor also helps in the operation of Cornering Brake Control (CBC), since this will tell the ABS that wheels on the inside of the curve should brake more than wheels on the outside, and by how much.
ABS equipment may also be used to implement a traction control system (TCS) on acceleration of the vehicle. If, when accelerating, the tire loses traction, the ABS controller can detect the situation and take suitable action so that traction is regained. More sophisticated versions of this can also control throttle levels and brakes simultaneously.