Autonomous Motorcycles Are Here—but Maybe Not Why You Think

By: Bridget Clerkin June 4, 2018
A riderless motorcycle, developed by British firm AB Dynamics, was engineered to teach driverless cars how to interact with motorcycles.

Motorcycles tend to have a bad reputation, usually associated with the leather jacket-clad tough guy or gal sporting a devil-may-care attitude.

But one company is hoping their bike will instead stand for humble helpfulness.

British company AB Dynamics is developing an autonomous motorcycle to help teach self-driving cars the true nature of the road.

The automotive testing firm is programming the riderless bike to do what motorcycles do best. They’ll zip in and out of traffic, ride down lane lines, and otherwise surprise and confuse drivers—even if they’re of the computerized variety.

Just like their human driver counterparts, autonomous cars need a lot of experience behind the wheel to get better at what they do. The concept behind AB Dynamics’ self-driving motorcycle is to help expose the cars to some realistic dangers of the road without putting any humans at risk.

To fool and frustrate the new-age machines, AB built their autonomous motorcycle from the body of a BMW C1 scooter. The vehicle includes an automatic transmission, plus all variety of cameras and sensors to help it ride. The group has also fitted the self-driving scooter with radio control software, GPS, and an on-board robot control, allowing the crew to pre-plan the bike’s movements or direct the machine live via remote.

While the idea of a self-driving motorcycle may sound strange or self-defeating, the concept was in fact the original iteration of autonomous cars. Silicon Valley wunderkind Anthony Levandowski—a founding member of Google’s self-driving car program—helped create an autonomous bike in 2004, years before Google began its autonomous car project in earnest. (Nicknamed Ghostrider, the vehicle is now at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.)

Indeed, the notion now seems to be catching on.

Yamaha introduced its first autonomous motorcycle, called the MOTOROiD, earlier this year. Among other unique technology, the bike utilizes an algorithm to calculate its center of gravity in real time, in order to help riders stay on top of the hog.

Still, for now it seems AB and their helper bike are winning the autonomous race. Who ever said nice guys finish last?

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