Remember the Yamaha MOTOBOT Robot Motorcycle? It was originally shown at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show in 2015, and takes a different approach to connected and AI powered motorcycles, including Yamaha’s own MOTOROiD. The idea behind MOTOBOT is that the humanoid robot can jump onto an unmodified motorcycle and ride it away, making its own decisions. The latest version 2 is at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, and it’s come quite a long way in just a couple of years.
The project has launched with some specific goals for 2017. Back in the first year, the aims were to ride in a straight line up to 100 km/h, manage a slalom course and make it around some corners. Which isn’t easy for a new robot using six actuators to ride a motorcycle based on feedback from sensors and an on-board GPS. Think back to learning how to ride a motorcycle, balancing steering, throttle, front and rear brakes, the clutch, and shifting gears. It’s still impressive that a human can juggle all of that whilst managing to also think about other traffic and road users, the weather conditions and whether or not they left the oven on before heading out…
But Yamaha always had some more ambitious aims for 2017 and beyond
So for 2017, one of the big aims was to reach 200kph (124mph) in a straight line. Which they managed to achieve. The other one was to beat Valentino Rossi, pretty much the greatest motorcycle racer in history, in a lap time challenge.
Considering how many racers begin and extend their riding careers by testing for motorcycle manufacturers, it’s maybe surprising how gracious Rossi is about the challenge. After all, the longterm public goal is to have a robot which can both beat human riders, and also replicate the same ideal lines and behaviour endlessly while relaying that data back.
That has a lot of benefits for Yamaha. No more hiring test riders, and no having to feed them or let them rest between tests. And not even the tiniest human variation between laps. So this year, the big challenge was to beat a lap time set by Valentino Rossi around the 2 mile West Course at Thunderhill Raceway Park in America.
So the good news for humanity is that the Yamaha MOTOBOT Robot Motorcycle version 2 ended up just over 30 seconds slower than Valentino Rossi across as single lap. Valentino managed 85.740 seconds, while MOTOBOT took 117.504 seconds.
The bad news is that Valentino Rossi is also significantly faster that most of us.
So while Vale might have a few more years left, whether that’s competing at the top level of MotoGP or outpacing robots, the rest of us aren’t going to last quite as long.
The good news is that MOTBOT should help to develop motorcycles (and other vehicles) which we can all enjoy, providing more details data and information on what makes a really enjoyable or fast motorcycle. And the fact that it’s built around a humanoid robot means that it can’t physically replace a rider unless you fancy riding pillion. The bigger threat will be whether you’ll still enjoy watching real humans race motorcycles when you know a robot can do it faster – something that four-wheeled motor sport is also grappling with.
The bigger threat to road riders will be from AI built into motorcycles, which is something Yamaha is also exploring with MOTOROiD, which we look at in much more detail, here.