Automotive futures - motorcycles, vehicle technology and roadmaps

Published on 2 August 2018 by Robert Drane

Engineer Ryan Duffy explores how motorcycles fit in as automation and vehicle technology rapidly accelerates


The automotive landscape is a fascinating place at the moment, as innovation and ever smarter technologies for our four-wheeled friends seem to be approaching from every direction.

These advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and technologies are progressing at such a pace it is difficult to keep up with what is available now and what is coming soon. Even more challenging is the task of influencing the outcome from a two-wheeled perspective.

The news brings constant reminders of rapid progress in the world of automotive autonomy – from Waymo’s self-driving cars to Huawei using an AI-enabled smartphone to drive a Porsche Panamera, or Silicon Valley start-up Nuro raising $92 million to launch its driverless delivery vehicle.

The technology coming to the UK may seem like science fiction, and that ‘Mad Hatter’ scientists are developing it in isolation for their products. However, there are actually plans in place for vehicle manufacturers to follow. These are published by the Automotive Council – a body working to improve dialogue and co-operation between the UK government and the automotive sector – and are called roadmaps.

The roadmaps illustrate the evolution and advances in automotive technology features expected over the next five, 10, 20 or 30 years – from passenger cars to trucks, from injector efficiency to hydrogen fuel cells. These are where to look if you want to know what is coming and when.


Where are we now?

SAE International, a global association of engineers and technical experts, has defined six levels of driving automation for motor vehicles.

It begins at Level 0. If we overlook the introduction of cruise control, the definition for this level fits motorbikes, at least for now: “The full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems”.

Take a step further, and adaptive cruise control (ACC) in vehicles offers SAE Level 1 or 2 autonomy. ACC, a forerunner to full autonomy, enables the vehicle in which it is installed to maintain a set distance or time from the one in front. This allows the second vehicle to automatically accelerate, decelerate and brake to match the speed of the first.

Tesla has already demonstrated SAE Level 2-3, where the car has limited autonomous function and the driver is still in control overall. Waymo says it has reached Level 4 – fully autonomous, without a human driver, in most circumstances.

The Automotive Council roadmap for passenger cars shows Level 5 autonomy – full automation, or complete control by the car – in vehicles by 2025. So with motorcycling in mind, the time to act is now if we are to influence the development of self-driving vehicles arriving on our roads in less than a decade.


How does this affect motorcyclists?

The BMF and FEMA have long been discussing the compatibility of autonomous cars and motorcycles on the open roads.

ACC, for example, which has been around for a decade, is a stepping stone to cars driving themselves. But research carried out at FEMA’s request found that while cars with hi-tech driving systems such as ACC are capable of noticing motorbikes, in some conditions it does not always see them.

So a key concern is that the development process around self-driving technology is so fast paced that it allows for the issues affecting motorcycles, such as detection, to only be discovered on the road. There are fears that motorbikes will be overlooked as companies that do not understand motorcyclists and their bikes enter the market and some commentators have even warned that the future of motorbikes hangs by a thread.

A report produced in 2017 by the US Give a Shift group, bringing together enthusiasts interested in a positive future for motorcycling, concluded: “There is a very real risk of motorcycling being completely cut out of the conversation for future vehicle infrastructure systems. The single biggest threat to motorcycling overall … will be the incompatibility between autonomous vehicles and existing motorcycles.”

The European car safety organisation Euro NCAP also highlighted the need for closer working between the car and bike sectors in its recently published Road Map 2025, which focuses on the use of advanced technology to improve safety: “Powered-two-wheeler safety is an urgent problem that requires closer collaboration between the car and motorcycle industries and more awareness amongst riders about the potential benefits of the latest safety innovations.”

FEMA is working at a European level to ensure that motorcycles are considered in new developments. However, there is no sign of a clear path from the Motorcycle Industry Association as to how motorcycles should fit into the big picture of future autonomous transport.

On the plus side, companies such as Safer-Turn are developing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) for motorcycles. Yamaha has developed a concept self-riding motorbike, Bosch continues developing ABS and stability control systems, while Honda has demonstrated its concept self-balancing motorbike, the Honda Riding Assist.

Meanwhile, the Connected Motorcycle Consortium (CMC) of seven world-leading motorbike manufacturers is working on intelligent transport technology tailored to motorcycles. Matthias Mörbe, vice-president for two-wheeler engineering solutions at Bosch, told a CMC congress last year: “Powered-two wheelers require a dedicated approach and specific engineering solutions. Intelligent transport system applications designed specifically for cars cannot be directly transferred to motorcycles.”


The way forward

The stage is now set for driver assistance to become the new normal over the coming years. For example, to achieve the Euro NCAP vehicles need to incorporate driver assistance technology to help avoid crashes.

Development is no longer taking place in isolated pockets but has become a global race to fully embed ADAS features into every vehicle sold. The technology is here – its most appropriate use and fine tuning are the last major hurdles to complete acceptance and inclusion.

Motorcycles are an established part of the transport environment and part of its future. Those historically automotive bodies not already making plans to include motorbikes, as technology rapidly evolves, need to do so.



SAE International’s levels of automation

Level 0

No automation
Up to present day

A full-time human driver is required to control all aspects of driving, from steering to speed. Most modern motorbikes and cars fall into this bracket, even if they possess systems such as collision warnings.


Level 1

Driver assistance
From the 1990s to the present day

Adaptive cruise control was developed in the 1990s but has become widespread in recent years. Level 1 vehicles can automatically accelerate, decelerate and brake once a speed has been set by the driver.


Level 2

Partial automation
From 2015

Vehicles employing Level 2 automation include Tesla’s Autopilot system. They have limited autonomous function, including steering and braking, as well as lane-keeping and automatic emergency braking. However, the driver must still remain vigilant.


Level 3

Conditional automation
From 2016 to 2020

Vehicles in this level can monitor their surroundings and drive on roads such as motorways or in traffic jams. However, the driver must always be prepared to take back control. Examples of features include: enhanced autopilot, traffic jam pilot, remote parking, remote garage pilot.


Level 4

High automation
From 2021

By the early 2020s, fully autonomous vehicles will be able to handle a wide variety of environments and whole journeys. However, they won’t work in severe weather or other exceptional situations. Such technology is already being developed, for example in Waymo’s self-driving cars and NAVYA’s shuttles.


Level 5

Full automation
From 2025

Car companies such as Renault-Nissan predict that unmanned and unrestricted driverless journeys will be taking place. All the driver will need to do is set the destination and start the car. However, others believe that we may never reach Level 5 automation. They think we will only use Level 4 vehicles which are restricted to be used only in certain locations (eg on a motorway).