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.
Unless this technology can stop the cars from drifting into my lane, I don’t want it.
The adaptive cruise control would be nice, but a throttle lock style works just as well and is way simpler.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in real life, particularly in terms of how strong the auto countersteer will have to be to turn the bike sharply enough to avoid a crash at speed.
Use of flat track racing technique provides a similar effect, though you have to brake and turn (not countersteer) and get it all correct which requires a lot of practice (at least in my case), so this could be a major step forward for many riders.
If a rider needs lane-keeping tech, they’re likely to die before buying one of these fancy bikes.
Why? Just.. why?
Unrelated, I do have to chuckle over the MSF lane position diagram – with its rendering of a bro-spec yellow Camaro and a distracted trophy wife Mercedes, it’s only a gigantic SUV away from being every motorcyclist’s nightmare intersection.
I can’t imagine any amount of countersteer would make up for an unprepared rider being completely off balance for a turn. This looks like a “press here to have wreck” button to me.
Yeah they would have to account for the rider leaning the wrong way.
Bikes of the future all flinging their riders off to save themselves
Which is all great until the bike counter steers you back into that oil patch or gravel in the road you’d crossed the line to avoid, or the bike serves to miss the panic braking car you’d hit at 10 mph so you get plowed by oncoming traffic instead.
I would love to know how much this would cost Honda to put on the millions of 50cc scooters they sell annually. This design study must have been punishment for the engineers who screwed up the Africa Twins forks so badly.
I’m sure it will be fun to clip apexes on a motorcycle that slaps you on the wrist every time you get close.
I hate these systems on cars and I have to think they’d be even worse on a motorcycle. I’ve never ridden two up, but I recall my MSF class mentioning that new passengers are often a problem because they don’t know how to shift their weight in corners to stay balanced. Having the bike start throwing itself around is going to have the same problem – if the rider is not anticipating it they won’t be in the right position and you’re going to have a mess. I suppose you could theoretically fix that with AI smart enough to adjust, but having a bike toss me around to get my weight balanced the way it wants sounds like a damn nightmare.
That’s what I wondered too – would the emergency input be heavy enough to dump an unsuspecting rider? Esp since many don’t use their legs much for position/balance, but put their weight on their arms.
I suppose converting a potential highside to a guaranteed lowside could be seen as preferable but…
Your AI point does make me wonder if eventually, once the tech gets good enough, optimal riding style will change from moving around on the bike to remaining stationary and letting it do the work.
Kinda like how (despite the constant use of the phrase in non-automotive situations) nobody “pumps the brakes” anymore on cars.
Tires are always gonna have a lean angle/grip curve and moving around is always gonna have a fairly large effect on the lean angle. No computer is going to be able to take that away.
I don’t daydream when I ride, if I’m not alert enough or cannot be 100% committed to the ride and reading the inputs, then the bike stays parked.
I figure if you can’t keep your bike going where you want it, you shouldn’t be riding.
Whether you should not be riding period or just need to take a break depends on your level of experience.
My latest bike has ABS and TC, things that are good if you are not intimately familiar with the bike and your and its limitations, but jeez lane control no thanks.
When you look at how most idiot sport bike riders drive in these parts, this will automatically cross Honda off their shopping list. Besides those morons barely ever have the front wheel on the ground anyway.
I don’t even ride and I hate it….
I know why I hate it and I know why Honda is doing this, but….I ….just can’t get on board [see previous note: “I hate it”]
What my MSF/CMSP instructors metaphorically beat into the class is that you always have to be vigilant on your bike. That motorcycle accidents are almost always the rider’s fault for losing vigilance or riding beyond your skill even if it is some donkeyhole cutting you off and slamming on their brakes or actively trying to commit vehicular homicide. Since we decide to put on that cloak of invisibility when we swing our leg over, ultimately we have control of our fate to avoid becoming a smudge on the pavement.
My personal opinion is that this is scary tech because it allows the rider to become less vigilant. This not necessarily being a safety aid because of the potential abuse we already see in level 2 driver assistance programs like Autopilot and Supercruise. Not to mention the amount of states that don’t even require a rider to wear a basic DOT helmet. And that DOT still allows brain buckets to be certified.
I do see benefit in radar/lidar based cruise control to take momentary wrist and hand breaks though while maintaining a specific speed and distance.
I do see the well intentions or altruism if you may say but this is going in the wrong direction. Again, my personal opinion as a fellow rider.
I think your concern is warranted!
Here in Illinois, I see guys riding in a tank top, shorts, and sandals. And the stunting is something else. I could imagine tech like this being abused or as you say, depended on to the point of complacency. And perhaps when you view it like that, BMW did it right. You still have to ride the thing, but you can relax a bit on the highway.
That said, I still find the tech itself really neat; just the fact that you could (in theory) make a motorcycle that can dodge a car.
I’m with you on that sentiment. I love riding, but I study robotics, so this sort of tech (which I’ve 100% thought of before), gives me conflicted feelings.
I don’t have confidence that this will be used to avoid accidents (way too many variations in nominal state parameters and disturbances in my opinion). Rather, it would likely be used in conjunction with cruise control to keep you in your place, and would have to be manually activated. It’s possible that, much like cars, it could have some haptic in the grips that vibrate to get your attention about getting too close to the line, but not actually do anything. Or it could get weird like Cadillac’s older system and vibrate the corresponding butt cheek in the seat. I think these two things would be ideal as a starting point if you are going to implement the LKAS.
Luckily, there are so many bikes built without this questionable technology, that there is no danger of me being forced to buy one before I die. Because there is exactly zero chance that I want some computer deciding to throw unexpected steering inputs into my cornering calculations while I ride. That’s what killed all those people with the Boeing 737 Max fiasco. The pilots tried to correct what the computers did, but couldn’t.
When I’m on two wheels, I trust myself. No one else. Period.
The thought of this scares the bejeebers out of me. It’s scary enough when the front tire decides to follow a road groove. I can’t imagine the bike suddenly zigging when I want to zag. Counterpoint. How about a nice, simple buzz in the bars for lane keeping or collision alert?
Related bit. My first wife was an amazingly good motorcycle passenger. You would never know she was there. Never did anything to upset the balance. I made a huge mistake and complimented her pillion skills. After that she started anticipating what I needed. She started leaning way too early for curves which caused all kinds of handling issues. I tried to coach her back into syncing with me but she couldn’t. She eventually quit riding with me. She suggested I needed lessons because I wasn’t as smooth as I used to be. Yes, Dear.
so safe it’s dangerous.
I’m fine with some tech on a bike, like fuel injection, ABS, maybe cruise and traction control.
But messing with the steering input of a 2-wheeled vehicle is just a fundamentally bad idea in my opinion. Why not add something non-intrusive like a warning light instead, or a beep, that you’re about to leave your lane?
I’d rather see a blind spot warning light if they want to add some safety tech to bikes.
I dont know.This sounds like it will cause more harm than good.
Keep the radar cruise control though! That gives a genuine benefit without potentially screwing up the bike’s handling
All of these zero road deaths commitments are ridiculous. With the billions and billions of miles driven it’s simply impossible to achieve. They have to take into account every single variable and if there is one mistake a death can occur.
It’s just a waste of money when if they want to improve safety they should spend it on actual achievable goals rather than a pipe dream that simply will never happen.
I was going to say the same thing. It’s like Elon promising the Cyber Truck by whatever year or some other blow hard guaranteeing something. If it doesn’t happen what’s the consequence? Nothing, we just go on as we always have. Just saying things to sound important without any basis in reality is so pointless and stupid.
Certainly isn’t going to happen with an attitude like that!
The motorcycles will have to become so nannied that you can’t do wheelies.
So when do we start getting the viral videos of people passed out sleeping on Goldwings going 80mph down I-10?