The benefits of self-driving technology for cars and trucks is obvious, but the applications for autonomous technology on vehicles of the two-wheeled variety are a little harder to fathom. All the weather and road rash exposure of a motorcycle, but none of the fun? What's the point? Turns out there's a very good one, and it's all about improving the safety of driverless cars.
Typically being more unpredictable than other vehicles on the road, motorbikes pose a unique challenge for autonomous cars. They're more maneuverable, accelerate much more rapidly, travel in between lanes of traffic and generally do all sorts of things that could confuse an algorithm as much as they confuse human drivers sometimes.
So, in an effort to allow autonomous vehicles to be exposed to motorcycles in realistic conditions, without putting human riders at risk, British company AB Dynamics has been developing a riderless motorcycle.
The bike itself is a BMW C1 scooter, chosen for its automatic transmission, ABS system, and rain-busting roof structure, which serves as a handy place to mount various sensors. It's been fitted out with an on-board robot controller, radio control software, GPS and other sensors that allow its movements to be pre-planned using AB's autonomous vehicle software.
The team is using it to run its tests accurately, repeatably and in a risk-free manner, and sees a growing role for this kind of technology as self-driving cars become more advanced and commonplace.
"Future legislation and vehicle safety testing could require ADAS systems and autonomous vehicles to be validated in increasingly complex scenarios and the riderless motorcycle is a useful tool for achieving this," says AB's Dr. Richard Simpson, senior systems engineer. "It could also have applications in motorcycle durability testing by removing the human rider from some of the more arduous tests over rough surfaces, such as pave, where cars already use robot drivers to eliminate driver fatigue."
As long as they don't expect us to start handing in our Triumph and Suzuki keys, we're all for this kind of thing. And it'll certainly be interesting for motorcyclists when autonomous cars become more and more prevalent – it's not beyond the realms of possibility that they'll have a very generous and risk-averse nature that canny bikers will try to exploit for their own benefit in traffic.
The video below shows the technology demonstrator working with a self driving car on a series of maneuvers, such as overtaking and intersection management, as well as demonstrating its ability to self-balance and perform tight cornering at slow speeds.
Source: AB Systems
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