BMW’s ConnectedDrive and ConnectedRide projects include cameras, laser scanners, radar and vehicle-to-vehicle communication for cars and motorcycles to improve safety.
A recent article in the Vancouver Sun (one of the local papers in my new hometown) discussed autonomous cars and how they could be as near as 10 years in the future for consumers. You’ve probably heard of the Google self-driving cars — the company’s fleet of electronics-loaded Priuses has logged thousands of miles and was recently officially licensed to drive in Nevada. But other companies and automobile manufacturers are hard at work on the technology. Self-driving cars should improve safety, as they are able to react quicker and make fewer errors than humans in any given situation. And they should reduce congestion as they can drive closer together. Ideally all the cars on the road will be autonomous and networked together, for even greater safety and less congestion. Your car will know the exact location of all the cars around you, for example, and keep a safe distance. And you won’t have to hunt for a parking spot as your car will know where the nearest empty spot is.
While a traffic system with only autonomous vehicles is far in the future, the systems used in self-driving cars are already finding their way into human-driven cars. Safety features such as blind-spot detection or pedestrian detection, and conveniences such as parking assist systems, are driving skills that a self-driving car would have to master. These technologies and more are already available on some automobiles.
BMW has long been at the forefront of motorcycle safety, and over the last couple of years has been conducting its ConnectedRide research project, which is run in conjunction with the company’s Research and Technology group and the automotive ConnectedDrive project. ConnectedRide outlines a series of rider assistance and assurance systems, based on available technology. Some of these features are already available in cars, and it’s just a matter of making them available on motorcycles — for example, automatic collision detection and emergency calling. Further down the line are motorcycle-specific assurance systems such as obstacle detection or weather warning. Even further are more advanced features such as the left-turn assistant, which utilizes cameras, laser scanners, radar and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. If the motorcycle detects an oncoming car in a potentially dangerous left-turn situation, the motorcycle’s “conspicuity enhancement” is activated. This includes successively brighter lights, flashing lights, and even activating the horn. If the automobile driver does attempt to turn, the bike can actually force the car to activate its brakes to prevent a collision, using vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
It seems to me that at least some people will want to drive their own cars and ride their own motorcycles for some time to come
I’m not sure how motorcycles will fit in as far as a self-driving (riding?) vehicle. Certainly it is a more difficult proposition to build an autonomous motorcycle, and there are plenty of obstacles that would have to be considered and surmounted. In any event, it seems to me that at least some people will want to drive their own cars and ride their own motorcycles for some time to come. While it may be only a decade until you can buy a self-driving car, the transition to autonomous-vehicle-only roadways is certainly more than a couple of decades in the future. In the meantime, cars and bikes will be more and more equipped with the safety and convenience features developed along the way. On the one hand, more safety features is a good thing. But on the other, I worry about being on the road with people relying increasingly on technology rather than their own driving skills for safety. If their cars are watching out for other cars and motorcycles for them, why should they? Will the next generation of drivers really be able to drive?
Even though safety proponents are pushing to have everyone in autonomous vehicles as soon as possible, that transition is likely to be longer and more difficult than the last big change in transportation, the switch from horses to automobiles more than a century ago. I guess I have mixed feelings about the safety aspects in the interim, but for the sake of motorcycling I hope the self-riding or self-driving motorcycle is a long way off. It really defeats the purpose of riding a motorcycle, doesn’t it? If we look to history, we still haven’t finished the transition from horses — ironically a sort of autonomous vehicle — to cars, as I still see the occasional horse and buggy on the road. I’ll take that as a sign that motorcycles that we can actually ride will be around for a while yet.
One more bit of food for thought: Early last year, IBM entered its computer Watson as a contestant on Jeopardy! to showcase its technology. How long will it be before a manufacturer enters a driverless car or motorcycle in a race, for exactly the same reasons?