A Motorcyclist’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Internet of Motorcycles

Jul 16, 2019 View Comments by

The Internet of Motorcycles

The great Roman Empire was built around infrastructure, specifically a vast and sophisticated network of roads that transported people and goods, and aqueducts to supply water. The United States of America, arguably the greatest empire that has ever existed, will be remembered for many advancements, but one of them, undoubtedly, will be the creation of the internet. Robust infrastructures enable growth of new and existing civilizations. Paved roads and the internet alike have connected people around the globe to establish new types of social behavior patterns that didn’t previously exist.

Information roads
Part 1 of this series explained how riders connect to each other with helmet communication devices for audio conversations using wireless networks. These “information roads” were designed originally to allow people to speak to each other, but now they are an infrastructure on their own. Aside from riders’ voices, any type of data can be delivered; for example: music, text messages, GPS positions, and other information as needed for the application.

You may have heard or read about the “internet of things” (IoT) revolution, which means that virtually any “dumb” object can be connected wirelessly to the internet, with minimal effort and very low cost. Each IoT device has one simple requirement, to be uniquely identified. An intelligent IoT refrigerator can count and report, via email or app notification, how many milk cartons are left and their expiration dates, and even automatically order new ones as needed. Similarly, imagine a motorcycle turned into an intelligent wireless device that can communicate with its surrounding environment and connect to the internet on its own. A “smart motorcycle” can report motorcycle telemetry (such as engine temperature, oil level, speed, acceleration forces, etc.), environmental telemetry (ambient air temperature, air pressure, moisture, etc.), GPS positions (which might be quite different from the rider position, if stolen), tire pressure, and more. An ever more radical direction, which may seem like science fiction or a major privacy issue to many people, is to turn riders into IoT devices by embedding a tiny microprocessor underneath their skin, and then securely connect to the internet and report rider sensory information, such as body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar level.
Once riders and motorcycles can all seamlessly communicate with each other, all kinds of interesting applications and tools can start to form. This is already beginning to show up with other vehicles. Tesla cars are continuously connected to the internet and get “over-the-air” firmware upgrades, just like smartphones. Unfortunately, motorcycles are still lagging a bit behind the technology curve and only top-end models (e.g., KTM with My Ride) have some limited capability with emphasis on smartphone connectivity. Nevertheless, given the extremely rapid rate that technology evolves, a true mesh connectivity between motorcycles and riders may be achieved in the near future.

Moving from 3G/4G to 5G
The cellular infrastructure is also changing very quickly. 3G and 4G (3rd and 4th generation) networks are based on service providers (T-Mobile and Verizon, for example) that require connection through cellular towers. Two smartphones, even from the same cellular network, could be 10 feet away and yet not be able to communicate directly to each other unless they have a radio signal connectivity to a nearby cellular tower. 5G (5th generation) aims to improve this limitation by allowing peers (phones, devices) to directly connect with each other without a tower.

This has enormous implications. Riders would be able to connect and share information, even in a no cell coverage area, by using 5G smartphones. In another scenario, the motorcycle can act as a cellular device, with its own SIM card, and connect to the internet through a cellular tower, using 3G or 4G, but also connect to nearby peers that may have no cellular reception, using 5G. With 5G the helmet communicator may not need any more long-range transmissions capabilities, because it could piggyback and use the motorcycle or smartphone data. As a consequence, the communicator may considerably shrink to become tiny and eventually merge seamlessly into the helmet. In this case, the strength of radio transmissions from the helmet would be significantly reduced. The helmet would only need to receive and transmit to a short 10-foot range with the motorcycle and/or smartphone, that in turn will do the heavy- lifting radio transmission, away from the rider’s head.

Another advantage for 5G technology is that peer-to-peer communications will consume much less energy and preserve batteries since local transmissions are much more efficient than connection with a distant cellular tower, sometimes located miles away.
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Satellite communications
I’ve covered satellite communication and its advantages in previous articles. When satellite networking becomes available in smartphones, that will just further open the “information highways’.” A known challenge with satellite communications is the relatively high energy levels needed for radio transmission and the bulky antenna. However, if a motorcycle becomes a satellite hotspot, then the motorcycle’s large battery and alternator, together with ample space for an antenna, will solve these issues, and every motorcycle could become a sophisticated hybrid multihotspot, providing cellular (3G/4G or 5G), satellite, Wi-Fi, and bluetooth data services.

What’s next?
I’ve highlighted some of the current and future communication infrastructures and their potential impact on social riders. In the next part of the series I’ll address specific applications and use cases of these technologies and demonstrate how riders and motorcycles would communicate with each other, their surroundings, and the global internet by utilizing interconnected wireless networks.




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