Do androids dream of… self-driving motorbikes?

During these last few days, a video of a BMW motorcycle capable of travelling without a driver has gained a huge traction on the Internet. What it’s probably yet to be fully understood is that this is just the beginning of a revolution that sees the electronics increasingly present in the management of two-wheeled vehicles. A revolution that the manufacturers are welcoming with caution, in order not to take away from us the pleasure of driving

The prototype of a BMW motorcycle capable of travelling without a driver has made a huge buzz in recent days. The demonstration took place in front of a select group of journalists, in the test area of the BMW group of Miramas, in the south of France.

The vehicle starts moving independently, it then accelerates, turns into the tortuous test circuit and slows down independently, until it just stops.

The demonstration, documented with official photos and videos, was recorded by the press, not failing to create some concern among many of us, who have wondered what’s the real purpose of such a prototype. “Will they take away from us the pleasure of driving, giving us in return bikes on which we sit without being able to do anything?” This is the legitimate question of many motorcyclists.

BMW has made it clear that it does not aim to commercially produce a motorcycle capable of travelling unmanned. Rather, it is working on a basic technology, which will serve as a platform for the development of future systems and functions that make the two wheels even safer and more comfortable, increasing the driving pleasure in the process. The objective of developing this prototype, stated BMW, is to gather further knowledge on the driving dynamics of the two-wheeled vehicle, in order to immediately detect dangerous situations and therefore support the driver with appropriate safety systems.

Historically there’s always been a lot of talk about cars without drivers, not motorbikes. This happened because the joint commitment of car manufacturers in the direction of vehicles capable of traveling without the assistance of a driver is something tangible, although the conclusion of this process is still far in time. Also because there are lower levels of automation already on the market. Even with unconscious drivers, as it happens not that unfrequently, who exchange them for fully automated driving systems. As such, accidents are not missing.

Yet even in the motorcycle department, BMW is not the only manufacturer to study driverless driving. Yamaha is doing it too, which in recent years has shown with less fanfare its Motobot, a robot capable of driving a motorcycle on the road at speeds above 200 km/h.

Did any of you see the video of the robotic driver’s challenge with Valentino Rossi, on the American track at Thunderhill Raceway Park? The event flew below radars since the anthropomorphic automaton of the Japanese house was mistaken by all of us for a mere display of sheer power, given the sport context in which it was inserted.

The Motobot lost, with the champion capable to complete the lap in 85 seconds, against the 111 of the robot. But Yamaha did something incredible, creating not an autonomous bike, but a man-shaped automaton capable of replicating human high-speed driving.

In this case too, the company of the three tuning forks has specified that the aim of the research is to develop technologies for the greater safety of mobility on two wheels.

Waiting for the self-driving bike, there are those who stand up all by themselves. In past years both Honda and BMW have shown their prototypes. And even in this case, they stated that their aim was to develop electronic aids that could make the task of drivers easier while also, perhaps, correcting human errors.

After all, without us being able to oppose, our motorbikes have somewhat already learned to ride themselves somehow. We started many years ago with the ABS, then came the Traction Control, which prevents the rear wheel from slipping. And now we have the ABS Cornering, capable of operating even when cornering, with a strongly inclined motion.

To supervise the functioning of all these electronic devices there are control units, able to manage them in a coordinated manner. This way, the bike gained much more stability.

The Ride-by-Wire, the system that electronically manages the opening of the throttle, has been spreading for some years. We, motorcyclists, have now the illusion of being the ones who run the engine, but it’s actually a computer doing the job. Obviously, it’s not the bike taking decisions autonomously, but if we run an incorrect command, such as giving too much gas when the engine is running at low speed, the control unit will command a gradual opening of the throttles of the injection system, instead of flooding. Without informing us of all this process. At the same time, we’ll be enjoying a smoother and even more performing bike.

And this is far from being the last tidbit. The semi-automatic transmission system of Honda, the well-known DCT which is already widespread, does not accept from the pilot dangerous or harmful commands for the motorcycle. For example, it does not allow to shift gear when the engine is already revved up.

Information technology and vehicle automation have also reached the shores of the motorcycle industry. But they did it softly, almost tiptoeing. And we motorcyclists are slowly getting used to an electronic aid while being not overly intrusive.

But now, dear manufacturers, please don’t push this progress too hard and let us savour the taste of driving. Because the prototypes of automatic motorcycles are already real, but those who remain incapable of evolving are just us, simple human beings.

Some videos of the prototypes mentioned in the article






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