Press release | 9.6.2016
Lisbon/Munich, 9 June 2016 - Streets and roadways are safer places thanks to the safety systems pioneered by Dutch-German engineer Anton van Zanten (75). Throughout a career in automotive safety technology spanning over 40 years, van Zanten developed the computer-assisted electronic stability control (ESC) system and other solutions that have saved thousands of lives and are now mandatory features in many new automobiles. For these accomplishments, the European Patent Office (EPO) honoured the engineer with the European Inventor Award in the "Lifetime Achievement" category, one of five award categories, at a ceremony held today in Lisbon.
"Anton van Zanten's inventions and over 40-year long career as an engineer are living proof of the power of innovation," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. "His imaginative pursuit of computer-assisted automotive safety systems, now in serial production, has prevented countless accidents and saved thousands of lives.
"The award ceremony at Lisbon's MEO Arena was attended by some 600 prominent guests from the areas of politics, business, intellectual property and science, and opened by the EPO President, Portugal's Prime Minister António Costa and European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas.
Now in its 11th year, the European Inventor Award is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding inventors from Europe and around the world who have made an exceptional contribution to social development, technological progress and economic growth. The winners were chosen by an independent international jury out of nearly 400 individuals and teams of inventors put forward for this year's award.
Already as a young researcher in the mid-1970s, van Zanten set his eyes on an old problem in automobile safety: when drivers brake abruptly in face of a suddenly appearing obstacle, the wheels of the car tend to "lock" - thereby causing the driver to lose control and veer off the road, often with fatal consequences. Van Zanten envisioned a way to prevent lockage by adjusting brake pressure to each wheel individually. The chance to test his theories with state-of-the-art research equipment came in 1977 when he joined German company Robert Bosch. After he worked on the team behind the anti-lock braking system (ABS), the company put van Zanten in charge of pursuing the ESC system. The principle: based on feedback from sensors, a central computer recognises dangerous skids and lock-ups, and within milliseconds corrects the car's lateral movement. The impact of van Zanten's lifetime work in the realm of automotive safety can hardly be overstated. To date, the ESC system has prevented nearly 260 000 traffic accidents and saved some 8 500 lives in Europe alone, according to an accident research study by Bosch. This makes ESC second only to the seatbelt in life-saving effects - and perhaps even better, as the system prevents accidents from happening in the first place.
Over the course of his influential career, van Zanten never took his foot off the gas. He is the author of some 180 granted patents - 36 relating to automotive safety - with tremendous market impact and life-saving effects throughout the world. Direct follow-ups to ESC include the second collision mitigation (SCM) system, designed to automatically apply brakes to all four wheels once a vehicle has been involved in a collision. "Patents are very important to protect your inventions," van Zanten says.
The engineer has been awarded some of the highest honours in the field of automotive technology. Retired since 2003, Anton van Zanten now lectures at several universities and also consults leading automotive companies. Asked about his inventive drive, the engineer remarked: "You only become an inventor when you're not satisfied. When you're satisfied with everything, you have no urge to create anything new."
Short video about the inventor (YouTube)
Note to editors: availability of AV and photo materials on 9 June 2016
Contacts at the EPO in Munich, Germany
Director External Communication