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Honda developing rider assist technology

Honda has patented a system which moves the autonomous motorcycle a big step closer – but motorcycles are still way behind cars in the development of self-driving/riding.

The trend towards autonomous cars seems unstoppable – Germany and Japan have approved ‘Level 3’ autonomy (the official SAE classification, highly automated driving on motorways) with the UK and other EU countries expected to follow suit, while Germany is also anticipating being the first country to approve SAE Level 4 (highly automated in ‘most driving situations.’)

Motorcycle manufacturers are certainly working on this. BMW showed a riderless GS to journalists in 2018, Yamaha has developed a steering-assist system for motocross bikes and many production bikes already have radar-based systems to warn riders of nearby vehicles, for example. And Honda certainly has form, unveiling its self-balancing Riding Assist concept bike in 2017.
This latest patent aims to make this technology applicable to the road. A complex suite of radar, LIDAR (lasers) and cameras work together to build a picture of the road and surrounding traffic. Sensors keep an eye on speed, acceleration and braking as well as the rider’s position on the seat, grips and footpegs. It uses this information to intervene with the throttle, brakes and steering as needed – steering control uses a similar torque sensor to Yamaha’s system, as reported here recently. The result is a motorcycle with adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and auto lane-changing.

Big step though it is, Honda’s system is still a long way from the self-riding bike. The rider will still be in overall control and the system will only intervene to prevent an accident or make small corrections. In terms of autonomous car technology this is still at the Level 1 or 2 stage according to the SAE classification – ‘steering or braking/acceleration support to the driver,’ not automation.

“The BMF have been monitoring the development of autonomous riding and driving tech for years, we have had, and still have, serious concerns about the interaction of autonomous tech in cars and conventional motorcycles. The recent regulation on ALKS [Automatic Lane Keeping Systems] which will make it mandatory for such systems to detect any minor collision, from any aspect, will be in place from 2024 onwards. The relevance is that it is specifically aimed at cars detecting motorcycles before they side swipe them, in dense traffic, when changing lanes. Currently, only Mercedes is planning on having such a system, on high-end models. On another level, one of the biggest concerns has been the potential for autonomous cars to use dedicated roads, thus excluding motorcycles from parts of the road infrastructure, that we all pay for.” said BMF Chair Jim Freeman.

Words by Peter Henshaw

Top image courtesy of Honda Motorcycles