Can a superbike-riding humanoid robot challenge the lap times of a MotoGP legend such as Valentino Rossi? This is the ultimate target that was set at the CES Robotics Conference, as Yamaha Motor Company announced its partnership with SRI International. The first step for this synergy will be to develop the Motobot's ability to navigate a racetrack independently by 2017.

The Motobot Ver. 1 was unveiled by Yamaha at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show last October, showcasing a humanoid rider capable of handling autonomously an unmodified R1M superbike.

This Friday at CES, Yamaha Motor Ventures and Laboratory Silicon Valley Inc. introduced its cooperation with SRI International (SRI) in an effort to further develop the fusion of a motorcycle with robotics technology.

The SRI research institute will offer its robotics expertise in an attempt to enable the Motobot to do much more than just ride around an empty lot. According to the project roadmap, by 2017 it should be able to identify and follow the ideal line around a racetrack, while trying to improve its lap times by constantly adapting to higher speeds and gradually approaching the motorcycle's limits. SRI reveals that initial testing has already begun.

"We will demonstrate how far humanoid robots have advanced in efficiency and performance and how industry leaders such as Yamaha Motor can leverage robotics to solve business challenges, create competitive advantages and accelerate innovation," says Thomas P. Low, Associate Director of Robotics at SRI International.

Although autonomous vehicle technology constitutes a very popular trend in the automotive industry, Yamaha is the first major motorcycle manufacturer to venture into this area. Until now, the only efforts on autonomous two-wheelers have materialized under the auspices of DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Project Agency).

Initially the benefits of a self-driving motorcycle appear to be rather questionable. A driverless car may make some sense as part of a completely safe (and controllable for that matter) urban transportation system, but who would ever want to ride pillion on a humanoid-controlled motorcycle? It seems to defy the very essence of riding a bike.

An apparent answer would be that Yamaha is simply flexing its technological muscle by showing us what its robotics team can achieve. But the Motobot is more than just a self-contained concept; the evolution of this tech will set the foundation for even safer support systems in tomorrow's motorcycles.

"This project will be able to push several boundaries: visualizing data about human motorcycle operation, further quantifying the relationship between rider input and machine behavior, and then using the resulting know-how to build even better vehicles," explains Amish Parashar, Director of Strategic Business Development at Yamaha Motor Ventures and Laboratory Silicon Valley Inc.

Both Yamaha and SRI set their sights high, as they identify a target that is very impressive at least. The final performance goal of the Motobot is to be able to beat the lap times of Valentino Rossi, pictured above.

We are talking about the man who has conquered seven MotoGP World Championships – plus two more in 125GP and 250GP, for a total of nine world titles. Given that, in a career spanning some 20 years at the top level of motorcycle racing, only a handful of riders have ever managed to see eye to eye with one of the greatest riders of all times, we'd say that the bar has been set extremely high indeed.

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