The concept of an active suspension system isn't new - prototypes and testbeds have been in existence for decades. But now the technology is finally becoming compact and inexpensive enough to justify its use in mass-produced vehicles, or nearly so. To help arrive at a final concept, the University of Eindhoven has begun a project to work out all of the necessary functions, features and elements of such a system.

The undertaking has arrived at a working prototype, tested for the first time this week. The basic design includes a passive spring with an electromagnetic insert that can regulate variables such as ride height and damping rates.

Advantages to an active suspension system are numerous. A greater degree of energy absorption can be achived under straight-line driving, making for a smoother ride, while the suspension can automatically stiffen when the car begins to turn, aiding handling - effectively combining the best of both worlds.

Using an electromagnetic mechanism to create active suspension control, as opposed to the spring-and-damper passive systems found in modern cars, could even enhance handling beyond current levels. With the ability to control roll and pitch, the electromagnetic suspension could in theory be used to 'lean' the car into the corners, effectively shifting the center of gravity and roll center to the inside of the turn, increasing cornering speed and lateral grip.

Some current cars - usually range-topping models - feature active suspensions, but they are based around hydraulic or pneumatic systems, and only able to adjust slowly and within a certain relatively narrow range. Others, like those found in the Corvette ZR-1 and the Ferrari 599, utilize a similar concept to the Dutch system, relying on magnetorheolocial fluid to adjust damping properties, in much the same way as the Eindhoven system. The presence of a solid actuator rod within the system allows for a greater range of adjustability, however, and could in theory help drive down prices as well.

The team hopes that its findings in the research of the electromagnetic system will lead to a production application within 5 to 10 years.