Ford is now offering Continuous Controlled Damping (CCD), its pothole-detection (and avoidance, which is the point) technology on midsize cars, which is a great step forward here in Michigan, believe me.
The car's computer detects when the car is running over a pothole, then instantly adjusts the shock absorbers to keep the tire from dropping into the depression. It works so well that Ford can demonstrate how the car can roll over a pothole without crushing ping-pong balls that had been dropped into it. The pothole protection feature will come standard on the car, says Ford spokesman Aaron Miller.
“The new Fusion V-6 Sport substantially reduces the harsh impact potholes often deliver,” says Jason Michener, a Ford engineer with expertise in the technology, in a statement. “Our new pothole-mitigation technology works by actually detecting potholes and catching the car’s wheel before it has a chance to drop all the way into the pothole.”
Ford cites AAA as saying pothole damage costs $3 billion a year, up to $300 a car.
The system works through the use of 12 high-resolution sensors. The computer can adjust suspension dampers every two milliseconds. It starts operating as soon as the car encounters the lip of a pothole — faster than the blink of an eye — making the shock absorber stiffen so that the front wheel won't fall into the hole.
(Ford pothole-detection and avoidance)
Although a bit different in implementation, it offers something similar to the smartwheels from Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash.
On the end is a squat foot, rubber tread on the bottom, swiveling on a ball joint. As the wheel rolls, the feet plant themselves one at a time, almost glomming into one continuous tire. If you surf over a bump, the spokes contract to roll over it...
(Read more about smartwheels)
Even closer, consider that Arthur C. Clarke created a solution called "flex-wheels" in his 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey:
Most of them moved on balloon tires, for this smooth, level plain posed no transportation difficulties; but one tanker rolled on the peculiar flex-wheels which had proved one of the best all-purpose ways of getting around on the Moon. A series of flat plates arranged in a circle, each plate independently mounted and sprung, the flex-wheel had many of the advantages of the caterpillar track from which it had evolved. It would adapt its shape and diameter to the terrain over which it was moving, and, unlike a caterpillar track, would continue to function even if a few sections were missing.