Motorcyclist Guide to the Galaxy: Dealing with Murphy, Part 4

May 21, 2018 View Comments by

Motorcyclist Guide to the Galaxy

Previous articles focused on tools and technologies that can help us get out of trouble or at least reduce risk and damage after the fact. All of them are generic and reactive fixes. Generic, because off-the-shelf solutions are not specific to motorcycle usage; and reactive, because it is assumed the rider will actively respond to events as they unfold, using cellular or satellite communications to request assistance and rescue. Now, let’s examine how some other advanced and proactive technologies can help us cope with Mr. Murphy.

Sensors and AI
Before we dive into the details, it is worth taking a step back and looking at the astonishing progress made in motorcycle tech in the last decade. Motorcycles used to be basic mechanical vehicles, with minimal electronics, lagging behind automotive technology. For many reasons, motorcycles have quickly caught up, with one contributing factor being the constant, strong pressure exerted by European regulators. ABS and fuel injection were closely followed by an ECU (microcontroller), gear-position sensor, LCD screens; and even the analog dials are actually driven by a digital Pulse Wave Modulated signal (or PWM) coming from the ECU. When you start your bike and the ECU boots up, notice how the dials spin fully clockwise and then counterclockwise. Then traction control, anti-wheelie and riding modes were added, and lately advanced leaning ABS systems that keep the bike on course during braking while cornering. Envisioned as living creatures, motorcycles are evolving into beings having numerous sensors and an ever-smarter brain. Some high-end models are even starting to maintain continuous internet connectivity via a cellular network.

All of this technology, and comparison to cutting-edge cars like Teslas leads to a conclusive vision of the future. The motorcycle will become intelligent and self-aware. It may sound creepy but look on the bright side. Humans are limited in their information processing capacity and reaction time. Conversely, machines never tire, or get bored, and they process large amounts of data at incredible speeds. Artificial intelligence can monitor our actions, intervene, and take corrective actions to keep us out of harm’s way. It can also call for help in case of an emergency or a crash.



Move Aside and Let the Autonomous Robot Take Over
The concept of an autonomous motorcycle is intriguing. Automatic self-balance, acceleration, braking, and steering hold the promise of reducing the vast majority of accidents and crashes.

At the November 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the Yamaha MOTOBOT prototype demonstrated how a stock R1M supersport bike, fitted with a mechanical human-like rider at the helm, can successfully race on a closed track. It tried to beat The Doctor, Valentino Rossi. And while the bot had no chance against VR46, its huge potential is evident; and it’s just a matter of time until the algorithms mature enough to support any human rider. After all, it’s all about the software.

Similarly, last year, BMW Motorrad introduced a self-balancing concept model. Their prototype is bespoke, but it is meant to be ridden by humans. In that demonstration, BMW had a rider sit on the motorcycle, without any side support, while the motorcycle continuously kept itself perfectly balanced and upright. A remarkable achievement indeed.

Autonomous vehicles don’t necessarily mean that riders will lose all control and become passive passengers, either. Rather, such systems could act as a safety blanket. Many cars are already equipped with systems that perform lane centering, or automatically stop the vehicle if a possible collision is detected.

Autonomous motorcycles could also compensate for loss of control, which is probably the number-one reason for crashes. Control can be lost due to road conditions, motorcycle malfunctions (i.e., a blown tire), rider errors, or an inability to ride—for example, falling asleep, being hit by a rock, or experiencing severe chest pain.


BMW eCall


Intelligent Emergency Calls
Satellite and cellular communication devices allow a rider to call for help. What if a rider can’t call for help due to severe injuries, being unconscious, or perhaps trapped?

Studies and experience, from civilian and military cases, show that the initial response time to attend a victim is critical. The more quickly a victim gets attention, the better the chances of survival and recovery.

Our North American readers might be familiar with OnStar, a GM subsidiary that offers remote assistance and emergency services over cellular networks for cars. The European equivalent is eCall, supported by a consortium of companies. It is estimated, by other studies, that remote emergency systems could reduce response times by 40 to 50 percent. In Europe, starting this April, all new cars must be sold with eCall installed. Motorcycles don’t have this regulation yet, but it is reasonable to expect it in the near future.

BMW Motorrad announced two years ago that an eCall optional safety package will be offered for its motorcycles. We hope that this becomes the industry standard and all other manufacturers follow suit. Furthermore, if next-generation solutions utilize communication satellites, then they could achieve full global coverage and extensive availability.

How does eCall work? The vehicle continuously processes telemetric information and looks for anomalies. Crashes have distinct sensory patterns. For example, strong g-forces in different axes are measured. Using machine-learning algorithms, on-board computers can distinguish extremely quickly and accurately between a major crash, if there’s a minor drop of the motorcycle, or normal conditions. The system sends the vehicle’s status along with its GPS position and the time to a cloud server. When a major crash is detected, the remote servers automatically summon emergency rescue teams to the current location of the vehicle. A conversation is also initiated from call center operator to the vehicle to check in with the driver about his or her conditions. The rider can also manually press an SOS handlebar button to request help.

Don’t Fear New Tech, Embrace It
The future looks bright and promising. The aid of artificial intelligence and other advanced safety systems will protect riders and motorcycles from accidents and other mishaps. We could focus on riding with peace of mind. There is no reason to resist or fear technology, but instead accept and embrace it. If anything can withstand Mr. Murphy, it’s bound to be a machine.

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