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Is your motorcycle really getting smarter?

Just like we see in cars, more and more driver assistance systems are being developed for motorcycles. FEMA’s Dolf Willigers explores if these systems can be helpful in real life.

Development of ABS since 1995 (picture: Bosch, click to enlarge)

When you consider the amount of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in cars these days, it is more or less amazing how little assistance systems can be found on motorcycles: ABS (although by many not seen as ADAS but as riding safety system), motorcycle stability control system (MSC, idem), cornering ABS on premium models, traction control, sometimes wheelie control, that’s about it and certainly not on all models. Compare that with cars: Automatic Emergency Breaking (AEB), Blind Spot Assistance (also available on one type BMW scooter), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Keeping Assistance (LKA), all kinds of parking and other sensors or even camera’s, hill start assist (I would like that on my motorcycle as well), et cetera.

There are reasons for this: many riders don’t want these kind of devices on their bike: they like riding to be as pure as possible. Some of the ADAS for cars are just not applicable on a motorcycle: what would I need a 360-degree camera for? Or lane keeping assist? Or an automatic parking system? Some systems are simply considered dangerous on motorcycles, at least for many of us. Like automatic braking systems or Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA). Another reason, and perhaps the most important reason, is scale: it takes money to develop these devices and with cars it is much easier to cover the cost than with motorcycles. Also, you cannot just take a device out of a car and put that on a motorcycle. This is something we motorcyclists are aware of, but many policy makers are not, so we keep repeating this in Brussels.

Line ridden with and without cornering ABS (picture: Bosch, click to enlarge)

And then there are the OEMs, the Original Equipment Manufacturers. These are the vehicle manufacturers themselves, but also companies like Bosch and Continental, that develop and manufacture parts of the motorcycle. Think of the cornering ABS systems, Electronic Stability Systems (ESS), Emergency Brake Assist & Forward Collision Warning systems, Blind Spot Detection & Lane Change Assist, Traffic Sign Assist, Intelligent Headlight Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control. By the way, Emergency Brake Assist helps with an emergency brake and should not the be confused with AEB, Automatic Emergency Brake system, that can bring a car to a full stop if the driver reacts too late (or not at all) if an obstacle appears in front of the car. Bosch claims that “one in seven motorcycle accidents could be prevented using radar-based assistance systems.” And that “Motorcycle manufacturers KTM and Ducati will include the new rider assistance systems in production models as soon as 2020.” However, I have not been able to find the research report that is supposed to back up the first claim. To see what is already on the market and what is to come, we will have a closer look at them.

Motorcycle ABS in the world (picture: Bosch)

Already on the market are ABS and Cornering ABS. With Bosch, cornering ABS is part of the motorcycle stability control system (MSC), that also includes support during accelerating. This system does not only take the friction of the tyres with the road into account, but also the leaning angle of the motorcycle and (lack of) downforce. Newer devices use sensors like radar, lidar and cameras. Continental already offers camera-supported assist systems like Traffic Sign Assist and Intelligent Headlight Assist. Both companies also offer Adaptive Cruise Control that keeps you at a fixed distance from the vehicle before you. Bosch claims that systems like this can avoid one in seven accidents, because you will always ride at a safe distance. However, I wonder what happens when your bike suddenly decelerates because another vehicle driver pushes his car between you and the car before you, as it happens all the time where I live and ride: will your bike suddenly brake? Not a nice idea without any protection from behind. Or will it decelerate gradually?

Both companies offer also a Forward Collision Warning System. This is also already known from the car world: you get an acoustic, haptic or optical warning signal when the system detects that you are about to collide with the vehicle before you. Continental combines it with Emergency Brake Assist, that ensures an optimum use of the available braking power. When a rear-end accident threatens, the motorcyclist will be alerted first, before the EBA function supports his active braking with a slight pre-brake pressure. If the rider does not respond to the warning, the emergency brake assist starts to build up brake pressure autonomously. If I understood the information from Continental well, it does not actively brake, like some systems in cars do. Still, it only works when the rider has both hands on the handlebar.

Blind Spot Detection (picture: Continental, click to enlarge)

The final assist system that is already available is Blind Spot Detection & Lane Change Assist. Blind Spot Detection warns when the rider fails to see a car or a motorcycle approaching rapidly from behind in the left-hand lane or in the blind spot next to the motorcycle. The rearward facing radar sensor monitors the road area behind and next to the motorcycle and warns if a lane change cannot be recommended. Incidentally available are a Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS, also going to be mandatory on cars) that is often not even available as an option, hill-start assist (HSA, prevents you to roll back when you release your brake to start riding uphill), Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA, adjust your suspension to the weight on the motorcycle and the driving circumstances).

What do these systems do and what do they not do? The already available systems (with exception of  ABS and stability control systems) do in no way interfere with the speed or the direction of the motorcycle. In this way they differ from systems that are fitted into cars. The stability control systems and ABS do this in a way, but only to help the rider to go safely in the direction he intents to go. All these systems do not change the direction of the motorcycle, brake without the rider activating the brake or accelerate without the rider initiating this. This is a fundamental change from the working of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in cars. Will it stay this way? Several motorcycle manufacturers have already developed self-steering and self-balancing motorcycles to try out new systems. It is to be expected that part of this will find its way to the consumer. Systems that help in balancing the motorcycle pave the way to assist systems that interfere with speed and direction, like (Pedestrian) Automatic Emergency Braking, which in a few years will become mandatory in cars.

Another feature that will be mandatory in cars is Intelligent Speed Assistance. Some road safety organizations want this on motorcycles too. With present techniques this is not a good idea, but in future some kind of ISA could become possible. Even active lane keeping assist systems could become possible.

With connectivity the car driver gets a warning on the dashboard (picture: CMC, click to enlarge)

Not mentioned yet is connection. Many companies and researchers work on systems that are connected: vehicles with the infrastructure or with each other in many kinds of variables and in many ways. The Connected Motorcycle Consortium (CMC) in which BMW Motorrad, Honda and Yamaha work together to develop Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) on a global scale and to develop common basic specifications, is working on systems that provide the motorcyclist with information, but also to warn other road users of his presence. The classic situation of car drivers that do not see motorcyclists when they turn, should be something of the past with these systems. In fact, systems that are based on sensors like radar, lidar and camera will never be able to recognize motorcycles under all circumstances. To be fully visible for cars and other vehicles under all circumstances, motorcycles will have to be provided with beacons and other devices that communicate with the environment, including cars.

Intelligent Headlight Assist (picture: Continental, click to enlarge)

The costs of these systems will be high. Higher than for cars, because development and production will be on a much smaller scale. They need to be protected more against vibrations and the weather. It is just as with your sat-nav device: it is several times more expensive than a comparable car sat-nav device. On the other hand: ABS was very expensive in the beginning. Since it has become common and even mandatory on all motorcycles except the very light ones (< 125 cc), prices have lowered rapidly. Some of the systems that are described above are now expensive options on the high-end models. With increasing demand, they will become more affordable for the average rider.

Another issue is the Human Machine Interface (HMI). In cars, this is less of a problem: your dashboard is more or less in front of you, so you will notice warning lights quite soon, especially when it is combined with a warning sound. With motorcycles this is less obvious: the dashboard is usually not in your direct line of sight, so you will often not notice a warning light as quick as you would in a car. And audible signals have to be very loud to be heard or you need to have a device in your helmet, like the bluetooth receiver that is used for rider-communication or to hear the instructions of your sat-nav system.

Finally, the main question remains: will we , the motorcyclists, accept these new assist systems and will we be prepared to pay for them? The Riderscan survey in 2014 showed that a small minority of 27.2% answered ‘yes’ to the question if new technologies enabled the road user to be safer, greener and less troubled by congestion. Especially Intelligent Speed Assistance was seen as useless and even dangerous by many riders.

Written by Dolf Willigers

This article is subject to FEMA’s copyright

Top image courtesy of Continental