Honda is on a mission to save lives. The company is aiming for zero crash deaths involving a Honda car or motorcycle by 2050. That’s a tall order, and Honda says that to get there it will need to eliminate the risks that lead to a crash in the first place. Some of this work is appearing in a patent filing, which shows that Honda wants to put a lane-keeping assist system on your motorcycles.
This news comes to us from Cycle World. Normally, I gloss right by patent filings because a lot of them are ideas we’ll probably never see. But this seems doable. While motorcycle tech generally lags behind automotive tech, the motorcycle world has been seeing leaps and bounds. If you ride something built in the last decade, you’re probably enjoying ABS, linked brakes, and maybe even traction control.
Last year, I got to ride a BMW R 18 Transcontinental down the highways of Colorado. With the flick of a button I was able to activate that motorcycle’s radar active cruise control. The motorcycle was able to accelerate and brake even in dense traffic, just like a car. The system doesn’t deactivate for shifts, either, so at times it almost felt like the BMW was riding itself. It was a mind-blowing experience to see the tech that I’ve used in cars working so well on a motorcycle.
But one thing that the BMW doesn’t do is nudge you in the correct direction when you start riding outside of your lane. This is where Honda comes in. The company wants its motorcycles to steer themselves away from trouble.
How It Works
As Cycle World reports, Honda has filed a patent on a motorcycle lane-keeping assist system (LKAS). If you drive a modern enough car and have dealt with a sometimes-wonky lane-keeping system, and you also ride, you’re probably feeling ready to fire up that keyboard. Especially since a lot of motorcyclists, myself included, love having near-total control of the machine. Part of the appeal of a motorcycle for some is how you the rider and the motorcycle have to work in unison. I think that’s part of why BMW’s radar cruise was so bewildering at first. Having a computer control that much of the ride was unexpected.
However, as Cycle World reports, Honda isn’t looking to take control of your handlebars. Instead, it wants to nudge you in the right direction when you make a mistake that could lead you to a crash. And should you decide that you’re doing as you intend, it will allow you to remain in control.
The Honda LKAS under development uses a radar and a camera to monitor the environment around the motorcycle. If it sees you about to venture out of your lane, it’ll try to nudge you back in, just like how a similar system would in a car.
Automatically Steering To Avoid Crashes
But the system has an even better element, I think. It can use auto-steering to try to avoid a crash. Say the car ahead of you slams its brakes because the driver thinks the light ahead is red when it’s actually green. This is an actual situation that I faced while riding an old Harley-Davidson Sportster. You as a rider now have to get out of this situation. If there’s no time to brake, that means steering out of the way. In Honda’s proposed system, if you take no action it will for you. It will determine whether to turn left or right, then do it, hopefully saving you in the process.
How Honda sees its motorcycles doing that is through a steering actuator mounted to the frame and connected to the triple clamps (the triple clamp is the big bracket at the top of the image above; it connects the steering fork to the frame post) through a linkage.
It looks a bit like a steering damper. A steering damper keeps your bike tracking straight and can reduce the possibility of a tank slapper. This sort of does the opposite as it rotates your bars ever so slightly in an effort to keep you in the lane. Or it can take full control and stop you from slamming into the back of that pickup truck that just slammed its brakes.
The System Works Differently Than In A Car Since Motorcycles Countersteer
In a car, you can feel LKAS tugging on the wheel in the direction that it wants you to go. That cannot work the same on a motorcycle since motorcycles employ countersteering to turn at speed. Thus, this system initiates countersteer by turning the bars in the opposite direction that it wants the bike to go. Once the motorcycle is back safely in its lane control is returned to the rider.
Of course, if the original move was intentional, the system can be overridden by resisting its attempt, just like in a car.
Cycle World reports that the steering actuator is connected to a torque sensor that measures input on the bars to determine whether you’re causing an input or if it’s something like a bump or pothole. It’s also connected to an inertial-measurement unit that monitors roll, pitch, yaw, acceleration, speed, throttle position, steering angle, steering torque, and suspension stroke.
If this system gets tied into an adaptive cruise control system, it would be a pretty big leap forward for motorcycles. With a system like that, a motorcycle would be able to accelerate, stop, and avoid crashes all without the rider’s input. Of course, I know a lot of riders don’t want this kind of tech. I get how you feel. It isn’t said, but I bet this stuff could be disabled. It certainly was able to on the BMW.
I Have Some Questions
I do have a couple of questions about this system. How close can you get to the lines before it tries to intervene? A lot of riders, myself included, do ride towards the outer sides of a lane. A motorcycle safety course instructor will tell you that you’ll want to ride where you can be seen and where you can escape emergencies.
Sometimes that means towards the outside of a lane so car drivers may be able to see you better. And should an emergency occur, you’re already at an advantage to take an escape path. But, doing this requires you to be closer to the lines on the road.
I would also imagine that motorcyclists who split lanes in California would need to deactivate the system during their rides. I have reached out to Honda for clarification.
If Honda pulls this off, it sounds like some pretty cool tech. It’s unclear what impact that it will have on motorcycle safety, but it’s a neat idea. I could see myself using a motorcycle with this kind of tech on a long journey across the country.