WHY THIS MATTERS
Part marketing stunt part serious experiment Yamaha’s Motobot robot took on Valentino “The Doctor” Rossi on the track to improve bike safety.
Yamaha was just caught showing off their latest humanoid robot that they put onto one of their motorcycles and pitted it against Valentino Rossi, one of, if not the, world’s top riders, and yes, you heard that right and no I’m not sh-azzling you. I said robot.
Of course the robot didn’t win, after all no one wins against Rossi, but the fact that it could ride at all is an amazing feat. However, it didn’t just ride, it flew. Go ahead you can click the video now – you know you want to. There’s a share button too…
Motobot Meets “The Doctor”
What’s extra impressive though is that the bike was completely unmodified, with the robot taking a traditional racers pose for its own. The robot sensed the environment, calculated what to do, kept the bike stable, managed acceleration and deceleration, all while factoring in road conditions, air resistance, and engine braking.
The project, according to the team behind it is “a Moon Shot,” says Hiroshi Saijo, the CEO of Yamaha, and they chose to do it because it is hard. But on a more serious note, asides from looking awesome, it’s also part of an industry wide drive push incorporate more autonomous features into commercial motorcycles in order to make them easier and safer to ride.
For instance, Yamaha’s bike can remain stable at speeds as low as 15 kph (9 mph), but sadly for Yamaha that’s nothing when you consider that Honda’s latest concept bike, the Riding Assist-E, which works like a Segway, balancing itself with tiny wheel motions in order to stay upright at a snail’s pace and a dead stop.
Meanwhile elsewhere Kawasaki is taking another route by developing an AI voice-response system similar to Siri, both to help the driver stay abreast of the situation and to let the AI monitor the driver’s attentiveness.
Yamaha’s Motobot, by contrast, didn’t have be safe or user friendly, and obviously there’s no human rider, the bike’s only purpose is to go fast. In a straight line it can hit 200 kph (124 mph), and when going round the track its lap time was 32 seconds slower than Rossi at 117.50 seconds.
But that said the developers, and Rossi say “just wait ‘til next time.”
Unlike self-driving car prototypes, Motobot will never need to navigate unknown roads and will never encounter traffic, pedestrians, or stray dogs, it just needs to have a sense of where it is on a pre-mapped track.
The robot can locate itself to within 2.5 cm using a combination of inertial measurement and GPS-RTK, GPS with real-time kinematics, that means augmenting GPS by referring to a signal from a radio station. Motobot also monitors the bike’s acceleration, air resistance, engine braking, and road conditions.
Before the test Yamaha’s engineers simulated all these elements in parallel, first on a computer and then in a hybrid test bed before they unleashed Motobot into the real world, and who knows, maybe one day they’ll add a sidecar to it so it can take volunteers out for a spin. I volunteer you first.