German electronics specialist Siemens has developed new braking technology in the form of the electronic wedge brake, which the company claims can dramatically reduce stopping distances of cars compared with conventional hydraulic systems. Previous attempts to improve the efficiency of braking systems have seen on the introduction of carbon compounds and electronic activation of auxiliary brakes. However, the performance of these are said to pale in comparison of the new electronic wedge brake.

The technology harks back to the days of horse-drawn carriages, where a wooden wedge was used to slow the wheel. The modern version relies on a set of interlocking triangular teeth that set between the caliper and the disc, and is said to require only one tenth of the energy that conventional brakes require. In fact, the entire system runs on the standard 12-volt electrical system found in most cars.

The most innovative attribute is the fact that the faster the car is going, the better the braking performance. A series of electric motors release pressure, while a torque sensor controls the braking force and keeps the wheels from locking up. During tests, the wedge brake equipped cars regularly required less than half the distance to come to a complete stop than cars fitted with standard brakes. The new braking system also requires less moving parts and weighs significantly less than current braking technology. Sources say the first German car with wedge brakes is planned for launch in 2008. With current brake and tire technology approaching its limits, new innovations such as wedge braking will drive the next level of growth.