The automotive technology has come far from the times it all began all those 100 or so years ago, when someone decided to put an engine between a set of wheels and we never looked back after that. Let's face it, for us the Petrolheads the history of mankind essentially only began when first engines were ever cranked. Saying that, the majority of the technical advancement has come in last 3 decades in the world of automobiles, and they have been a result of essentially three main reasons: Emission Concerns, Road Safety and Increasing Traffic.
With the emission norms getting stricter every passing day, we are witnessing a global downsizing of engines and the acceptance of technologies such as turbo and supercharging of small capacity engines thereby producing more or less same power as the bigger engines while being more efficient and less polluting. It is a process that is going on at a rapid pace and is sure to go on into future as well. With alternate fuel technologies such as All electric, Petrol/Diesel Hybrid and Fuel Cell technology also gaining a fast momentum and expanding its presence, the future seems secure for the personal automobile as far as emission related issues are concerned. However, the other two constraints that have fuelled the development of electronics to such an extremely high and significant levels in the automobile industry are still more or less a big issue, Road Safety and Traffic.
Now, the above two are closely related, as increasing number of vehicles on road means the road safety becomes even more delicate to maintain. With such large number of automobiles being added to the roads, there has been an exponential rise in the number of road related accidents and fatalities throughout the globe. To remedy it, a lot of solutions has been put forward by automobile companies and the smarter being among us, however, one technology has found some traction as well as development money from the masses and the automobile companies together and that is Autonomous Driving Vehicle technology. Interesting for its absolute geeky awesomeness as well as James Bond level wizardry, this technology seems like a natural progression for our four wheeled counter parts that are gaining big strides in the autonomous driving field, mainly due to the fact that a vast majority thinks that if we do not let any human drive, we take out the human error part accident and thus can make the public roads safer for commute, however, as our colleagues at Autoportal.in have discussed here, this technology no matter how sci-fi, is still too far off for the practical real world application. We support, self parking and small things like that, but complete driverless vehicles on roads are something we aren't so sure about.
Now, coming back to our favourite stuff, Motorcycles, the same idea of an autonomous motorcycle has a lot more complexities to it , if it comes to implementing it, that is. But then, let's face it, we were all aware that it was coming, that the machines will comes to take over our beloved motorcycles also. And, we are afraid that Skynet has risen (there HAD to be a Terminator Series reference here) and much like those 'Moto-Terminators' from the Terminator Salvation, and them Transformers, the Motobots have arrived and it didn't took them long enough to challenge Valentino Rossi who is probably the greatest motorcycle racer of all time. And, the Motobot challenge to the Doctor comes from a creation from Yamaha itself.
Here is the interesting bit, Yamaha has chosen to showcase the 'Motobot' at the Tokyo Motorshow, a place which has, since years has been the battleground for all the Japanese giants to show their engineering might. In fact, the Tokyo Motorshow is the epicentre for the nerd bragging rights for the engineers working at the Japanese companies like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki. This is where the Japanese engineering shine and this is where, in 2015 Yamaha has packed a serious punch to the mighty Honda.
Remember ASIMO by Honda, the Robot Honda has been developing for almost 15 years now, and with a few downfalls (literally, making ASIMO stay away from stairs, mostly) but much praised engineering and a brilliant idea, ASIMO has been Honda's electronic and mechanical engineering's poster child. However, no matter how complex and brilliant the ASIMO achievement it, its growth has still been relatively slow, such as ASIMO learning to kick a football only recently. But it is something that most tiny little comparatively just arrived human beings learn pretty darn fast, thus looking like a long slow growth path for ASIMO.
Now enters the Yamaha Motobot, that can be seen riding a motorcycle (something that most humans don't even know how to don, even while actually being on one and on public roads, but then, it is a rant for another day) and not just a normal puny little drab commuter, Mr. Motobot introduced himself while riding the 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1!!! Now Yamaha that is just being a show off, seriously!
So what the Motobot is doing for Yamaha is to trump Honda’s ASIMO by doing something that is perceived to be more complex than what ASIMO has achieved over the years. We all know and appreciate that motorcycles are fast thus the motorcycle riding Motobot is fast. Walking is slow which ASIMO does so that means ASIMO is slow. Thus (not that we are saying or adding anything to it , for it, or against it) Yamaha has nailed it against the mighty Honda, so it seems.
Also, the location of the Motobot video where he is doing his thing is curious. It is at Alameda, California alongwith a view of San Francisco in the background. If you think that this place looks familiar then yes, the Alameda Naval Air Station is where the second installment of the Matrix was filmed here, and it’s also where autonomous vehicles were first given their driving orders. While the companies like Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Google and yes, Apple too, are focusing on product that will be directly for the consumer usages, there is a huge potential for business-to-business or B2B applications. Imagine a world where cargo and freight carriers could haul loads non-sto day in -day out because they have no driver who gets tired.
And for shorter stints as well as for thrill seeking adventures, motorcycles and even drones might make sense, thus, it could mean that a self riding motorcycle might have a potentially lucrative technology to have. However, expect the Motobot to give way to the rider and the bike itself will become the Motobot.
The advanced of the autonomous riding motorcycles and other two wheelers would also mean a huge breakthrough in the part of motorcycle riding about which a lot is still unknown and that is, about the human component in riding motorcycles, and with no definite pattern to co relate it to rider dynamics, such technology in itself could hold tremendous value. For all the racing classes such as MotoGP the future lies in understanding the rider dynamics that go hand-in-hand with riding a motorcycle to its full potential and it will be the next big frontier. The questions that hold incredible development and engineering value such as, How does Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, or Jorge Lorenzo really ride a motorcycle to the limit? and for such complex answers, the significance of the Motobot is incredible. Thus in time, it’s only logical to believe that engineers will be able to tell riders how they need to ride the bike in order to get the maximum, not the riders telling the team what they need in order to go fast. That should be an interesting day.
At present, in its Version 1.0 and in the early stages of development, the Yamaha Motobot might not be more than a really expensive and technological marvel of an RC toy at, but it holds in it huge implications for the way the future will unfold for the industry, for motorcycle racing, and for the general public at large. Yamaha is poised to learn a great deal from this project, and the benefits can extend beyond just making better motorcycles and safer for racers, and for common people alike.
So in the end to finish it off on a philosophical note, Years from now, when we look back at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show we will remember that: it was the day that it all started to change. And, To add to it the last lines of the Yamaha press release on the Motobot say this: “We want to apply the fundamental technology and know-how gained in the process of this challenge to the creation of advanced rider safety and rider-support systems and put them to use in our current businesses, as well as using them to pioneer new lines of business.”
In other news, we are still pretty bummed that even a humanoid robot is getting to ride the all new Yamaha YZF-R1, while here we are watching our lives go by. Yamaha are you listening? Our Garage could do with an R1 for a day or two ;)
Watch the Brilliant Yamaha Motobot video after the Jump: