When the death rate of a motorcyclist is 28 times higher than someone behind the wheel of a car, it’s clear the role of a self driving bike is to make the activity safer and not to recreate a modern headless horseman.
Motorcycles face unique challenges and BMW Mottorad has been working on this technology for 2 years.
The plan isn’t to sell a fully self-driving motorcycle. Instead, BMW says it wants to add aspects of the tech into its motorcycles to offer more stability in critical riding situations. Cars are getting driver assist features like automatic emergency braking or lane keep, BMW is looking to integrate similar tech to cut down on the most avoidable accidents.
Translating these kinds of driver assistance features to a motorcycle is a challenge. You can program a car to slam on the brakes to avoid a crash, and the driver will (likely) come out just fine. But if you do that on a motorcycle, the rider would go flying off the bike. Given the level of control motorcycle riders have over the balance of their bikes, even subtle automated corrections could create new danger.
Something else to consider is the changing footprint of the bike, it had a lean angle when it turns which changes the amount of space the bike takes up on the road. This isn’t just another variable to take into consideration it changes the bounding box, this is the calculation that determines the size around an object required to keep it safe. This dimension does not really change for a car, but take the lean angle of the bike into consideration and very quickly the object on the road needs a lot more space to keep it safe.
The idea of a variable bounding box isn’t just a consideration for automated features on a bike, it’s a consideration that cars need to take into account as they begin to drive themselves.
The acceleration of a bike is higher and the normal behavior of a rider is different. Weaving in traffic and changing lanes is different in cars than it is in bikes. If you take an extreme of a commercial vehicle the normal behavior is harder to handle or predict, if a truck never leaves a mine, it’s easy to predict and deal with its normal behavior.
The information produced by a car is also different, door open vs door closed and the bike will send a lean angle because this changes, very quickly, the bounding box or the projected footprint on the car changes. Cars consistently have the same footprint unless the doors open, it stays the same, but when I bike leans it now takes up a larger portion of the road. This type of information needs to be taken into consideration when we create standards for the types of information that are created, included and considered important.
We need Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication NOT Car-to-Car
If you’ve been following along with the field of self-driving cars you’ll be aware of the struggles of standardizing Car to Car communication. BMW Mottorad is raising awareness around the special needs of the motorcycle, the automotive industry isn’t waiting around for the motorcycle industry to get its act together to move forward on standards.
If the motorcycle industry wasn’t stepping up to take a seat at the table there would be no way to transmit the lean angle because the car industry wants the angle of the steering wheel. On a bike you brake with your hand and your foot, BMW is creating the data that the industry needs to take the bike into consideration when it creates standards for future communication and infrastructure.
It’s clear that autonomous, V2V and self-driving features will begin in the car, the technology isn’t miniaturized yet if you look at cars the data loggers and computers took up the whole trunk, motorcycles don’t have that luxury.
The CMC (Connected Motorcycle Consortium) s creating standards for the car and motorcycle ecosystem. It’s is active in making sure that the steps that are being taken aren’t excluding the motorcycle.
What is BMW Mottorad really showing off today?
It’s impressive, we won’t take away anything from the demo, but we’re not actually seeing a self-driving bike, we are seeing a bike follow a GPS track it doesn’t have any environment sensors. In addition to telling the bike where the track is, they had to set track parameters, for example, it’s width and composition before it heads out to drive itself around the track.
The three containers are full of raw development, it’s a combination of equipment they picked up at their local electronics shop, their racing workbench with a few custom bits for good measure. The total extra weight is 70kg.
What is actively being calculated in the video is the bike stabilization. The turning and stabilizing of the bike is an exciting feature that could be added to a bike used to teach people to ride.
They are hoping to also provide guidance for object avoidance, they can start to figure out what’s the best angle or way to stay safe in certain situations. The end goal is not to sell self-driving bikes but to create assistance systems that can help reduce the risk.
BMW isn’t planning on releasing a self-driving bike, but a project like this is important to raise the awareness around the motorcycles special needs. And to amaze us with the erry footage of a driverless bike zipping around a track.