When the General Dynamics F-16 was introduced in the mid-1970s, it was the first production application of the so-called “fly-by-wire” flight control system, replacing conventional cables and hydraulics with electronics. The 2006 Yamaha YZF R6 was the first production motorcycle with a fly-by-wire throttle. These electronic systems allow the pilot’s (or rider’s) control inputs to be re-interpreted by the machine’s computers to optimize the desired results. The aerodynamics of some modern aircraft are such that they would be difficult to impossible to fly were the pilot’s inputs translated directly to the control surfaces without computer intervention. Now, Honda is moving to develop a fly-by-wire clutch system, further advancing motorcycle technology to improve performance, rideability, and safety.
Honda’s electronic clutch still retains a hydraulic circuit to control engagement and disengagement of the clutch plates, but electronically controls the hydraulic pressure based upon not only lever pressure, but also numerous other data streams from various sensors and the IMU. Doing so can optimize performance, eliminate stalling, reduce wear and tear on the clutch and transmission, as well as aid in the operation of quick shifters, wheelie control, launch control, and any number of other existing systems.
The setup is designed to default to clutch disengagement, a good safety feature should the system fail. Another aspect of the patent deals with feedback at the lever, using a device that provides a reactive force that simulates the feel of a conventional clutch.
With the advent of quick shifters, dual-clutch transmissions, and electronic control of all of the various engine functions, it is quite possible the motorcycle clutch lever will go the way of the clutch pedal in North American market automobiles, making these patents a minor stop-gap solution that will be quickly obsolete. However, motorcyclists being motorcyclists, the demise of the clutch lever will be resisted at every turn.