Modern electronics affect us more and more each day.  Electronic devices now assist us in many daily tasks.  Whether it be your phone, computer, or even household appliances, electronics aid, or perhaps “invade” our daily lives.

Depending on your point of view, the aids can be a good or bad thing.  And perhaps they are a little bit of both.  For example, electronic pilot aids have been in jet aircraft for many years.   The devices likely have prevented humans from making bad and dangerous decisions many, many times.  But there are also cases where the “autopilot” literally makes a decision that results in a crash.

The same can be said for automobiles.  Tesla’s autopilot is still a controversial topic, but it is being implemented widely, and whether we like it or not, systems like it will likely become common in the future.

Motorcycle autopilot

So, it’s not so unbelievable that, according to Bike Social, Honda has filed a patent application for a motorcycle-based autopilot-like system.  Yes, you read that right, an autopilot for a motorcycle.

Motorcycle-based adaptive cruise control is already a reality on Ducati’s new Multistrada V4, and it will soon make an appearance in BMW’s R 1250 RT.  These systems can automatically control throttle and brakes to maintain an appropriate distance.

But Honda’s patent application shows a system that provides additional layers of “assistance.”  Not only does it use sensors to judge distance and adjust the throttle and brakes, but it also includes a steering assist.

Honda autopilot

Honda’s “autopilot” system includes a motor attached to the fork capable of making steering inputs.

The Honda system uses a servo motor mounted behind the steering head with a chain that connects to the bike’s fork.  The motor acts similar to an adaptive steering dampener.  While its design should help to prevent or control headshake, it can also steer the bike itself.

One diagram (written in German) shows the system helping a motorcycle avoid a hazard ahead and ultimately exit the motorway.  All these actions can be taken without any inputs from the bike’s rider.  There’s even the suggestion that the system will be able to follow satellite navigation instructions.

Honda autopilot

This Honda patent application diagram shows that the system can make the bike maneuver and even follow navigation instructions.

Watching the rider

One other part of Honda’s autopilot is the monitoring of the rider’s actions.  A patent application drawing shows a camera mounted on the bike’s dash.  It is positioned to point at the rider’s head.  There’s a similar camera at the rear watching the rider’s back.

Those cameras will monitor the rider’s riding position and send that data to the bike’s computer.  The data will then help the computer decide whether the rider is alert and whether the rider’s inputs are intentional or accidental.  The autopilot will then use that data in making its decisions as to whether certain actions are necessary and appropriate.

Many may feel that Honda’s system is somewhat “Big Brother-ish.”  And it could be considered intimidating.  Is it OK to have a computer watching over a rider’s actions and then make its own decision as to whether the rider is acting appropriately?

However, although Honda’s system exists in a patent application, there’s no telling how far along the system is.  Nor do we know whether Honda will ultimately bring the system to market.

Motorcycles are not the same as automobiles

This kind of assistance is already available for automobiles.  And, many people now trust the autopilot to keep them out of trouble or at least assist when a dangerous situation arises.

However, automobiles keep themselves upright.  Motorcycles require assistance from the rider just to stay vertical.  So equipping a motorcycle with an autopilot is significantly different than equipping an automobile.

Trusting an autopilot

So the differences between the two platforms beg several questions about whether you would trust an autopilot while riding your motorcycle.  Let’s say, for the purposes of this discussion, that the autopilot is 99.99% effective at doing precisely what its designers tell it to do.

It provides throttle, braking, and lane change maneuvers correctly.  Its sensors can work in all kinds of weather in which a motorcycle would be capable of riding in.  And the autopilot is switchable, meaning that you can turn it on and off when you desire.

With these parameters in mind, would you trust a motorcycle autopilot to autonomously take action for tasks such as braking, acceleration, and lane changes?   Would your opinion change if the system merely provides assistance when it senses danger, but you maintain total control over the motorcycle’s actions?

As additional food for thought, we have largely adopted autonomous technology in our automobiles.  We trust airbags to fire at the correct times.  We also trust seatbelts to correctly pretension and release.  And, we drive cars equipped with ABS that is always on and which we cannot turn off.

With all these factors in mind, let everyone know what you think in the comments below.










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