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In the automotive industry, brake-by-wire technology is the ability to control brakes through electrical means. It can be designed to supplement ordinary service brakes or it can be a standalone brake system.

This technology is widely used on all hybrid and battery electric vehicles, including the Toyota Prius. Brake-by-wire is also common in the form of the electric park brake which is now widely used on mainstream vehicles.

The technology replaces traditional components such as the pumps, hoses, fluids, belts and vacuum servos and master cylinders with electronic sensors and actuators. Drive-by-wire technology in automotive industry replaces the traditional mechanical and hydraulic control systems with electronic control systems using electromechanical actuators and human-machine interfaces such as pedal and steering feel emulators.

Some x-by-wire technologies have been already installed on commercial vehicles such as steer-by-wire, and throttle-by-wire. Brake-by-wire technology has been widely commercialized with the introduction of Battery Electric Vehicles and Hybrid Vehicles. The most widely used application by Toyota in the high volume Prius was preceded by the GM EV1, the Rav4 EV, and other EVs where the technology is required for regenerative braking. Ford, General Motors, and most other manufacturers use the same general design, with the exception of Honda, who designed a notably different design.

Passenger and light truck[edit]

Brake-by-wire is used in all common hybrid and electric vehicles produced since 1998 including all Toyota, Ford, and General Motors Electric and hybrid models. The Toyota Synergy Drive and the Rav4 EV use a system where a modified ABS (antilock brake system) actuator is coupled with a special hydraulic brake master cylinder to create a hydraulic system, coupled with the brake control unit (computer). Ford's system is almost identical to the Toyota system, and the General Motors system uses different nomenclature for components while the operation is virtually identical.

The hydraulic force generated by pressing the brake pedal is used only as a sensor input to the computer unless a catastrophic failure occurs including a loss of 12-volt electrical power. The brake actuator has an electric pump that provides the hydraulic pressure for the system, and valves to pressurize each wheel caliper to apply the friction brake when required by the system.

The system includes all of the complexity of a vehicle stability control system (VSC), antilock brake system (ABS), and the requirement to use the Regeneration Braking as the primary mode of slowing the vehicle unless the Traction Battery (high-voltage battery) state of charge is too high to accept the additional energy or a panic stop or ABS situation is detected by the system.

The sensors monitored as inputs for the brake system include the wheel speed sensors, traction battery state of charge, yaw sensor, brake pedal, stroke sensor, steering wheel angle, hydraulic actuator pressure, hydraulic pressures of each wheel caliper circuit, and accelerator position. Other information and inputs are also monitored.

The standard or typical operation is as follows:

  1. The vehicle operator presses the brake pedal
  2. The master cylinder converts the brake pedal movement to hydraulic pressure
  3. the stroke sensor measures the pedal movement to identify a "panic stop" condition
  4. The pressure transducer provides the brake force desired.
  5. The Brake Control Unit (computer) detects the inputs, and then checks the wheel speed sensors to determine vehicle speed, and to determine if a wheel lockup requires the ABS algorithm.
  6. The Brake Control System then checks the yaw sensor, steering wheel angle, and state of charge of the traction battery.
  7. If the speed of the vehicle is above about 7 MPH, the vehicle traction motor generator is used as a generator to convert the kinetic energy to electric power, and stores the energy in the battery. This slows the vehicle.
  8. If the operator (driver) presses the brake pedal harder, the system will apply hydraulic friction brakes to increase brake force.
  9. Once the vehicle speed drops below about 7 MPH, the hydraulic brake system will completely take over, as regenerative Braking does not work effectively.
  10. If the yaw sensor detects vehicle yaw, the system will initiate vehicle stability algorithms and processes (VSC).
  11. If the wheel speed sensors detect wheel lock-up, the system will initiate anti-lock algorithm (ABS).


Brake-by-wire exists on heavy duty commercial vehicles under the name Electronic Braking System (EBS). This system provides electronic activation of all braking system components including retarder and engine brake. EBS also supports trailers and communicates between the towing vehicle and trailer using the ISO 11992 protocol. The communication between trailer and towing vehicle shall be done through a specific connector dedicated to ABS/EBS following either ISO 7638-1 for 24V systems or ISO 7638-2 for 12V systems.

EBS still relies on compressed air for braking and is only controlling the air through valves which means that it is not depending on higher voltages used by the electromechanical or electrohydraulical brake systems where electric power also is used to apply the brake pressure.

EBS enhances the precision of the braking over conventional braking, which shortens the braking distance. This essentially means that what EBS provides is icing on the cake of an already powerful brake system. The fall back of an EBS system in case of failure is to use the ordinary air brake control pressure, so even in the event of a failure of the electronics the vehicle shall be able to make a safe stop.

Electromechanical Braking System architecture[edit]

Fig. 1. General architecture of an EMB system.

General architecture of an electromechanical braking (EMB) system in a drive-by-wire car is shown in Fig. 1. The system mainly comprises five types of elements:

  1. Processors including an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and other local processors
  2. Memory (mainly integrated into the ECU)
  3. Sensors
  4. Actuators
  5. Communication network(s).

Once the driver inputs a brake command to the system via a human-machine interface - HMI (e.g. the brake pedal), four independent brake commands are generated by the ECU based on high level brake functions such as anti-lock braking system (ABS) or vehicle stability control (VSC). These command signals are sent to the four electric calipers (e-calipers) via a communication network. As this network might not be able to properly communicate with the e-calipers due to network faults, HMI sensory data are also directly transmitted to each e-caliper via a separate data bus.

In each e-caliper a controller uses the brake command (received from ECU) as a reference input. The controller provides drive control commands for a power control module. This module controls three phase drive currents for the brake actuator which is a permanent magnet DC motor, energised by 42 V sources. In addition to tracking its reference brake command, the caliper controller also controls the position and speed of the brake actuator. Thus, two sensors are vitally required to measure the position and speed of the actuator in each e-caliper. Because of the safety critical nature of the application, even missing a limited number of samples of these sensory data should be compensated for.


A brake-by-wire system, by nature, is a safety critical system and therefore fault tolerance is a vitally important characteristic of this system. As a result, a brake-by-wire system is designed in such way that many of its essential information would be derived from a variety of sources (sensors) and be handled by more than the bare necessity hardware. Three main types of redundancy usually exist in a brake-by-wire system:

  1. Redundant sensors in safety critical components such as the brake pedal.
  2. Redundant copies of some signals that are of particular safety importance such as displacement and force measurements of the brake pedal copied by multiple processors in the pedal interface unit.
  3. Redundant hardware to perform important processing tasks such as multiple processors for the electronic control unit (ECU) in Fig. 1.

In order to utilize the existing redundancy, voting algorithms need to be evaluated, modified and adopted to meet the stringent requirements of a brake-by-wire system. Reliability, fault tolerance and accuracy are the main targeted outcomes of the voting techniques that should be developed especially for redundancy resolution inside a brake-by-wire system.

Example of a solution for this problem: A fuzzy voter developed to fuse the information provided by three sensors devised in a brake pedal design.

Missing data compensation[edit]

In a brake-by-wire car, some sensors are safety-critical components, and their failure will disrupt the vehicle function and endanger human lives. Two examples are the brake pedal sensors and the wheel speed sensors. The electronic control unit must always be informed of the driver’s intentions to brake or to stop the vehicle. Therefore, missing the pedal sensor data is a serious problem for functionality of the vehicle control system.

In the current brake-by-wire systems used in passenger and light truck vehicles, the system is designed to use existing sensors that have been proven to be dependable in brake system components and systems including ABS and VSC systems.

The highest potential risk for brake system failure has proven to be the Brake Control System software. Recurring failures have occurred in over 200 cases documented in NTSB documents. Because each manufacturer guards the confidentiality of their system design and software, there is no independent validation of the systems.

As of 2016 the NTSB has not directly investigated passenger car and light truck brake-by-wire vehicle accidents, and the manufacturers have taken the position that their vehicles are completely safe, and that all reported accidents are the result of "driver error".

Wheel speed data are also vital in a brake-by-wire system to avoid skidding. The design of a brake-by-wire car should provide safeguards against missing some of the data samples provided by the safety-critical sensors. Popular solutions are to provide redundant sensors and to apply a fail-safe mechanism. In addition to a complete sensor loss, the electronic control unit may also suffer an intermittent (temporary) data loss. For example, sensor data can sometimes fail to reach the electronic control unit. This may happen due to a temporary problem with the sensor itself or with the data transmission path. It may also result from an instantaneous short circuit or disconnection, a communication network fault, or a sudden increase in noise. In such cases, for a safe operation, the system has to be compensated for missing data samples.

Example of a solution for this problem: Missing data compensation by a predictive filter.

Accurate estimation of position and speed of brake actuators in the e-calipers[edit]

The caliper controller controls the position and speed of the brake actuator (besides its main task which is tracking of its reference brake command). Thus, position and speed sensors are vitally required in each e-caliper and an efficient design of a measurement mechanism to sense the position and speed of the actuator is required. Recent designs for brake-by-wire systems use resolvers to provide accurate and continuous measurements for both absolute position and speed of the rotor of the actuators. Incremental encoders are relative position sensors and their additive error needs to be calibrated or compensated for by different methods. Unlike the encoders, resolvers provide two output signals that always allow the detection of absolute angular position. In addition, they suppress common mode noise and are especially useful in a noisy environment. Because of these reasons, resolvers are usually applied for the purpose of position and speed measurement in brake-by-wire systems. However, nonlinear and robust observers are required to extract accurate position and speed estimates from the sinusoidal signals provided by resolvers.

Example of a solution for this problem: A hybrid resolver-to-digital conversion scheme with guaranteed robust stability and automatic calibration of the resolvers used in an EMB system.

Measurement and/or estimation of clamp force in the electromechanical calipers[edit]

A clamp force sensor is a relatively expensive component in an EMB caliper. The cost is derived from its high unit value from a supplier, as well as marked production expenses because of its inclusion. The later emanates from the complex assembly procedures dealing with small tolerances, as well as on-line calibration for performance variability from one clamp force sensor to another. The successful use of a clamp force sensor in an EMB system poses a challenging engineering task. If a clamp force sensor is placed close to a brake pad, then it will be subjected to severe temperature conditions reaching up to 800 Celsius that will challenge its mechanical integrity. Also temperature drifts must be compensated for. This situation can be avoided by embedding a clamp force sensor deep within the caliper. However, embedding this sensor leads to hysteresis that is influenced by friction between the clamp force sensor and the point of contact of an inner pad with the rotor. This hysteresis prevents a true clamp force to be measured. Due to the cost issues and engineering challenges involved with including the clamp force sensor, it might be desirable to eliminate this component from the EMB system. A potential opportunity to achieve this presents itself in accurate estimation of the clamp force based on alternative EMB system sensory measurements leading to the omission of a clamp force sensor.

Example of a solution for this problem: Clamp force estimation from actuator position and current measurements using sensor data fusion.

Electric parking brakes[edit]

Brake by wire is now a mature concept in its application to vehicle parking brakes. The electronic parking brake (EPB) was introduced in the early 2000s by BMW and Audi on their top line models (the 7-series and A8 respectively) to dispense with the traditional cable operated system (operated via a lever between the seats or via a foot pedal) which commonly acted on the rear wheels of a car. Such systems use a motorized mechanism built into the rear disc brake caliper, and is signalled via a switch on the centre console or dashboard. The electric parking brake is normally integrated with the vehicle's other systems via a CAN bus network, and can provide additional functionality such as

  • Automatic release of the parking brake upon moving off
  • Automatic engagement of the parking brake whenever the vehicle is stopped on an incline - known as "Hold Assist"

EPB systems afford packaging and manufacturing advances, since it allows for an uncluttered central console in the absence of the traditional handbrake lever (many manufacturers have used the freed up space to place the controls for their infotainment systems), plus it reduces manufacturing complexity since it removes the need to route bowden cables underneath the vehicle.

EPB has gradually filtered down to cheaper vehicles, for instance within the Volkswagen Group, EPB became now a standard fitment on the 2006 Passat (B6), whilst Opel introduced it on the 2008 Insignia.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Hoseinnezhad, R., Bab-Hadiashar, A., Missing data compensation for safety-critical components in a drive-by wire system (2005), IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology, Volume 54, Issue 4, pp. 1304–1311.
  • Hoseinnezhad, R., Signal Processing Methods and Apparatus (Missing Data Handling by A Multi-Step Ahead Predictive Filter), International Patent number PCT/AU2005/000888.
  • Hoseinnezhad, R., Bab-Hadiashar, A., Fusion of redundant information in brake-by-wire systems, using a fuzzy Voter (2006), Journal of Advances in Information Fusion, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp. 35–45.
  • Hoseinnezhad, R., Position sensing in by-wire brake callipers using resolvers (2006), IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp. 924–932.
  • Hoseinnezhad, R., Harding, P., Signal Processing and Position Determining Apparatus and Methods, International patent application number PCT/AU2006/000282.
  • Hoseinnezhad, R., Bab-Hadiashar, A., Automatic calibration of resolver sensors in electro-mechanical braking systems: A modified recursive weighted least squares approach (2007), IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp. 1052–1060.
  • Anwar, S., Zheng, B., An antilock-braking algorithm for an eddy-current-based brake-by-wire system (2007) IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology, 56 (3), pp. 1100–1107.
  • Anwar, S., Anti-lock braking control of a hybrid brake-by-wire system (2006) Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part D: Journal of Automobile Engineering, 220 (8), pp. 1101–1117.
  • Lee, Y., Lee, W.S., Hardware-in-the-loop simulation for electro-mechanical brake (2006) 2006 SICE-ICASE International Joint Conference, art. no. 4109220, pp. 1513–1516.
  • Canuto, F., Turco, P., Colombo, D., Control development process of the brake-by-wire system (2006) Proceedings of 8th Biennial ASME Conference on Engineering Systems Design and Analysis, ESDA2006, 2006,
  • Lang, H., Roberts, R., Jung, A., Fiedler, J., Mayer, A., The road to 12V brake-by-wire technology (2006) VDI Berichte, (1931), pp. 55–71.
  • Emereole, O.C., Good, M.C., Comparison of the braking performance of electromechanical and hydraulic abs systems (2005) American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Dynamic Systems and Control Division (Publication) DSC, 74 DSC (1 PART A), pp. 319–328.
  • Murphey, Y.L., Masrur, A., Chen, Z., Zhang, B., A fuzzy system for fault diagnostics in power electronics based brake-by-wire system (2005) Annual Conference of the North American Fuzzy Information Processing Society - NAFIPS, 2005, art. no. 1548556, pp. 326–331.
  • Masrur, A., Zhang, B., Wu, H., Mi, C., Chen, Z., Murphey, Y.L., Fault diagnostics in power electronics based brake-by-wire system (2005) 2005 IEEE Vehicle Power and Propulsion Conference, VPPC, 2005, art. no. 1554615, pp. 560–566.
  • Anwar, S., A torque based sliding mode control of an eddy current braking system for automotive applications (2005) American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Dynamic Systems and Control Division (Publication) DSC, 74 DSC (1 PART A), pp. 297–302.
  • Anwar, S., Anti-lock braking control of an electromagnetic brake-by-wire system (2005) American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Dynamic Systems and Control Division (Publication) DSC, 74 DSC (1 PART A), pp. 303–311.