Staring out the boardroom window during your weekly Wednesday meeting at work, probably has you wanting to claw your eyes out with boredom and drifting off into the mental escape of visualizing your upcoming weekend ride.
Well, what if that weekend motorcycle ride didn’t really involve that much of you at all, just sitting on the seat of a self-driving motorcycle more like a kid on a merry-go-round.
To bring the autonomous bike to life, BMW has thrown itself back in the spotlight recently by showcasing their R1200GS at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and reminding the world that self-driving automobiles aren't just for our friends on four wheels. However, the intelligent R1200GS is not for sale and has no future plans to be. So why did they build it?
Addicted To The Limelight
As far as I can tell, BMW is addicted to the limelight. They can’t stop turning out news and innovation to show off just how damn good they are.
For a company that is in the business of selling products, this is anything but a bad thing. Between the launch of their Spezial line of products last year, where you can personalize your bike just the way you like it with enhanced BMW accessories. To Erin Sills, record-breaking run on a BMW S 1000 RR achieving a speed of 242MPH to become the fastest speed ever recorded on a BMW. Even announcing a new Motorrad CEO, Dr. Markus Schramm to help reach Motorrads ambitious goal of selling 200,000 units per year.
All of this headline topping news fell by the wayside when they first released footage of their self-driving motorcycle in September of 2018. Now they have brought this autonomous motorcycle to the global stage at the 2019 Las Vegas CES. The CES showcased more than 4000-companies this year and had close to 200,000-people walk through its door. The platform for this event would typically feel like home to tech companies in the cellphone and computer world of innovation. However, if you’re in almost any business today your in the technology business, so why not a motorcycle.
What can the intelligent R1200GS do?
As a stand-alone motorcycle that is operated remotely with the help of an instructor, it can do, well, just about anything you can do, maybe even better. The bike is designed to start, accelerate, turn corners in both a casual and aggressive manner, slow down, and stop with a few commands from an operator and help from its road sensing technology.
One part of the demonstration I didn’t see however was the bike doing a wheelie! All of the bikes tech is cleverly hidden away in the panniers and in the rear box of the bike. Aside from antennas and the UFO looking, I assume sensor or GPS, on the top of the rear box you wouldn’t otherwise know it was anything but your ordinary 1200GS.
Then, off to the sidelines and not receiving much credit is the operator who gives the bike's software some commands, like telling it to start and stop, or outlining if it should make a wide or sharp turn. This coupled along with the bikes road sensing technology allows it to make accurate decisions about what to do and where to go.
In an interview with autoblog.com the vice president of the US division of BMW Motorrad, Michael Peyton explained a few key things about the bike and its technology.
“There is no consumer plan for this bike. This is not going to replace your pizza delivery scooter. Rather, we are asking how we can aid the rider and help them to be safer and enjoy the ride more. Initially, interestingly enough, there was not a lot of pushback. I guess this is the benefit of being part of a carmaker aware of where technology is going. The big decisions were around deciding what further tech we want to involve because part of charge at BMW is to be progressive and innovative."
"One of the big reasons we did this is because when you start thinking about the coming of autonomous cars and the internet of things evolving, we want to make sure that motorcycles are a part of this ongoing conversation. We also want to look at ways to mitigate the possibility, as autonomy comes in, of roads being shut to non-autonomous-enabled vehicles, especially to motorcycles, because they're too much of an unpredictable variable. We want to make sure that we, that motorcycles are involved in the conversation as standards develop so we can help answer questions like, 'How does an autonomous vehicle interact with a motorcycle that's lane splitting.'"
Peyton also noted that another selling feature to giving this project the go-ahead was, "When people see it, they say, 'Hey, that's really cool.'"
What I took away from his interview was; yes this is cool, no you can't have one, and in the future, if self-riding bikes become a thing, we will be prepared.
Can a self-driven bike help a new rider?
If you remember back to your first time on a motorcycle, or better yet if your first time on a motorcycle was as an adult. Then you’ll recall the steep learning curve that followed. The time when you almost fell over on take-off, or almost fell off on stopping, or almost fell over when cornering. Maybe you were even lucky enough to fall over during all three of those attempts.
It is one thing to take a motorcycle training course and watch an instructor who's been riding for years maneuver through a corner. But what if you could ask him to show you how to make that corner again and again and again, at precisely the same angle every time so you could try to understand how it’s done. All this without him dropping the bike himself from exhaustion or getting pissed at you for not figuring out how to make the turn sooner.
What if you could calculate the exact angle required to make the perfect turn into a corner, or the best way to come to a complete stop, maybe even the ideal precision from which to take off. If all of this could be input into the software of a self-driving motorcycle and used to teach new riders how to ride.
I think the biggest drawback would be all the flack you’d get from old school riders. The riders who learned the "hard way," or whom all have their opinions on the best way to go about doing things. If you could precisely calculate it all and teach based off a proven set of variables, then I think you could give new riders the best chance possible to keep themselves safe.
The technology and re-thinking would be just as disruptive as any new technology, but after a while, it will become the norm. It worked with the computer, and the cell phone, it's happening with self-driving cards, hell even wearing a helmet when you ride a bike or a seatbelt in your car blew peoples minds at one point. Why not learn from a self-driving motorcycle that has had precision calculations done to optimize results. Check out BMW’s promotional video to get your head around how this all might work.
Anything is now possible, you just need to pay for it.
When you go looking down the rabbit hole of safety, it's of crucial importance to look into a point made earlier by Michael Peyton. Once autonomous cars become part of the road or maybe even their own roads, how are they going to deal with or converse with autonomous motorcycles, or motorcycles lacking that technology for that matter. If the technology does not exist within a motorcycle to talk to a car that is on the lookout for other cars it can speak to, to make you as safe as possible, then, you, in fact, have a less-safe motorcycle.
Many motorcycles are currently being built with technologies that are driver activated like ABS and traction control. What if those motorcycles could also scan the road ahead and alert the driver of any possible upcoming hazards. Then let you know if the speed you are doing is too much for the corner you are about to take. Then if your bike could talk to the cars around you to ensure they keep a suitable distance from you, making sure you don't become the BMW hood ornament of a driverless Honda.
If you thought it was expensive to get a sensor replaced on your bike before, just wait ‘till they’re equipped with sensors that can talk to cars, read road conditions and do most of the problematic thinking for you!
Images: BMW Motorcycles