TOKYO Amid the rapid advancements in motorcycle technology, Honda Motor is pushing the boundaries even further with a self-balancing system that could pave the way for a whole new kind of riding.
Entering the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January for the first time in 10 years, Honda stole the show with its self-balancing motorcycle. The prototype, which uses what Honda calls the Driver Assistance System, was developed using technology the automaker has accumulated through its Asimo series of humanoid robots and other projects.
Riders often have difficulty balancing motorcycles when riding at low speed or when they stop. In Japan, many people find it difficult to control heavy bikes. As a result, electric bikes and minivans have eaten away at the motorcycle market. Honda began researching self-balancing motorcycle technology to eliminate these difficulties and “let more people enjoy riding,” said Makoto Araki, an engineer at the Motorcycle R&D Center, part of Honda R&D.
In addition to Asimo, the centre’s engineers also took inspiration from technology developed for the Uni-Cub, a futuristic seat-type electric scooter, and other products.
Kazushi Akimoto, the centre’s chief engineer, who was involved in robotics projects, and Arai began working together to develop a self-balancing bicycle.
The secret of the self-balancing system lies in the front fork, which connects the handlebars to the front wheel. When the bike slows down to less than 4 km / h, the angle of the fork automatically changes, moving the wheel slightly forward. This activates the self-balancing system, which makes tiny left-to-right steering adjustments.
Normally a motorcycle leans in the direction the front wheel is pointing. When Riding Assist is activated, the bike tilts in the opposite direction and stays upright with imperceptible adjustments. This self-balancing mechanism is the “very principle that allows Asimo to fend for itself,” Akimoto said. The robot can stand upright because the movements of its legs and torso are balanced.
âWe concluded that it should be possible to self-balance a motorcycle by moving its tires to change the point of contact with the ground and by adjusting the steering,â Akimoto explained.
The prototype is extremely simple, as it adds only three parts to an ordinary bicycle: a system to lower and raise the front fork, a motor to modulate the steering angle of the steering wheel and a device to disconnect the handlebars from the movements of the front fork. direction.
Encouraged by the positive reception received by the Riding Assist system, Honda strives to mass-produce self-balancing motorcycles as soon as possible.
THE ROAD OF TOMORROW Motor-assisted bicycles were first developed in the 19th century. For more than 100 years, motorcycle manufacturers have fought hard to improve the performance, design and environmental friendliness of their products while reducing costs. But there haven’t been any major changes in the basic construction of a motorcycle – two wheels and an engine to turn them.
Manufacturers are now challenging this convention with the help of next-generation technologies.
In 2016, to commemorate its 100th anniversary, German automaker BMW introduced a self-balancing motorcycle as a concept vehicle. Although design details have not been made public, the bike relies on the gyroscopic effect, which prevents a spinning top from falling. With its futuristic design, the bike adopts an autonomous driving system that the company says will help prevent accidents, making helmets a thing of the past.
Self-balancing motorcycles could make it easier for older people and other riders to ride, but that’s just one of the potential applications of the technology. âThis could become a fundamental technology to introduce driver assistance systems similar to those used in four-wheeled vehicles,â said Atsuo Ota, senior researcher in charge of electrical devices for motorcycles at Honda R&D, suggesting that the automaker is considering using Riding Assist. for developments similar to self-driving cars.
Parts makers are jumping on the bandwagon. The German Continental plans to develop a technology that allows a motorcycle to safely follow the vehicle in front and brake automatically. The company will use radar sensor technology designed for automobiles and hopes to deploy the new technology by 2020.
The future of motorcycles, however, is not limited to autonomous driving systems.
Kawasaki Heavy Industries has started to develop an artificial intelligence equipped bike that “converses” with its rider and adjusts engine power and braking performance according to its preferred riding style. The company hopes to develop practical AI technology within a few years.
Accelerating competition for technological development is giving impetus even to Honda, already the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.
âWe will have to consider partnering with people who have technologies and cultures inaccessible to Honda, based on the spirit of open innovation,â said Hiroyuki Nakata, chief engineer at Honda R&D.
Once self-driving cars become a reality, motorcycles, too, are likely to change dramatically. For motorcycle manufacturers, their future depends on their ability to stay ahead and innovate.