Back in 2017, Yamaha rolled into the Tokyo Motor Show with one of the weirdest motorcycle concepts you’ll ever see. The Motoroid was basically a self-balancing bike that a rider wore like a coat and operated with a haptic system and triggers. This year for the Japan Mobility Show 2023, Yamaha brought an updated version of the bike out and it’s somehow even crazier than before. The Motoroid 2 is more like a Pokémon than a motorcycle as it can detect its owner, move around on its own, and it’s apparently supposed to feel like you’re riding a living thing rather than cold metal. If you’re as confused as I am, let’s look at this together.
The Tokyo Motor Show is entering its 51st edition and 69 years of existence; nice. If you haven’t noticed already, the big change for this year is the name itself, as the event is now called the Japan Mobility Show. This reflects a change in the show’s content. Where you used to see the latest cars and coolest concepts, the Japan Mobility Show, running from October 26 through November 5, is now about just about anything that moves. Car, motorcycle, and commercial vehicle manufacturers will be present, as will tons of parts suppliers and companies making eVTOLs, a flurry of RV manufacturers, and more.
Yamaha is bringing a lot of concepts to the Japan Mobility Show. The list is impressive and includes rocking chairs, a hydrogen-powered side-by-side, a robot arm, and Tricera three-wheeler (above) that’s like a Polaris Slingshot with rear-wheel steer. Don’t worry, Yamaha’s provided no actual information to go along with the trike other than saying that it’s supposed to be a “back to basics” machine.
Of all of the concepts, the wildest is definitely the Motoroid 2.
The Original Motoroid
Before we continue to the newest iteration of the Motoroid, the original cannot go without mention. I could describe the press releases and whatnot, but I’ll just let Yamaha do the talking. Take it away!
“MOTOROiD, stand up!” As if waking from a slumber to respond to the call, the machine’s chassis gyrates and slowly brings itself up off its sidestand to stand upright on its own. With a beckoning gesture or call from the rider, MOTOROiD moves forward, and sometimes rotates its chassis to snake left and right as if engaged in a friendly frolic with the rider. Despite being a human with a machine, the scene looks more like a dog—albeit a very large one—and its owner going for a leisurely stroll, with a sense of intimacy and mutual trust.
The primary technologies comprising MOTOROiD are an image recognition AI system for recognizing the rider’s face and gestures, Yamaha’s exclusive AMCES (Active Mass Center Control System) self-balancing technology, and a haptic human-machine interface (HMI) that wraps around the hips and is aimed at fostering non-verbal communication between rider and machine.
Each of these cutting-edge technologies were already being developed independently before MOTOROiD, and the original mission given to the design team was to create a design for the exterior covers of the testbed vehicle for these technologies. The request was for “a machine that looks and acts like a living creature.” It was this idea that would eventually lead to the creation of MOTOROiD as an entirely new kind of vehicle.
Yamaha stated in its presentation that the Motoroid represents a possible future where motorcycles have advanced well beyond their current state.
Yamaha says the original Motoroid was built around Jin-Ki Kanno, or the “seductive exhilaration” one should get when straddling a machine. That is one way to describe why many folks love motorcycles.
At the heart of the original Motoroid is the aforementioned AMCES. This system uses the battery as a large counterweight, and the motorcycle’s frame itself rotates to control the motorcycle’s center of gravity. Yamaha says that like an animal, the Motoroid will swing its frame out to pick itself up, then return to center, but maintaining balance. The motorcycle will be sitting perfectly upright and can then retract its own side stand. It’s a bit freaky to watch:
This machinery is combined with an AI-driven facial recognition system that allows the motorcycle to identify its owner and its owner’s hand gestures. That introduction video also shows the bike rolling around by itself.
The horribly tiny seat also has a haptic contact point that covers most of the rider’s back. Yamaha says that this is for “someday providing a physical link to enable non-verbal communication between rider and machine, like the rider’s minute movements and behavior being detected and responded to by the bike itself.”
In other words, it’s supposed to be a motorcycle and basically a pet.
Yamaha is returning to the show with a refined version of the Motoroid. The Motoroid 2 now looks sleek and more like something you’d see in the movie I, Robot rather than an anime like the previous version.
The Motoroid 2 follows the same concept as the first as it can lift itself off of the ground and balance itself. In this press release, Yamaha hypes up how the motorcycle could follow you around. This sounds great for instances when you’ve stuffed your bike into an impossibly tight space, but I can’t help but picture the Motoroid 2 being your jogging buddy like a dog might be.
AMCES makes a return here and works the same way as the old Motoroid, but now it looks more refined. The AI-powered human recognition system is also there. What is new is what Yamaha says is a new Leaf structure, something not found on any other motorcycle, and is designed to give the rider lifelike feedback when they’re riding the machine. Yamaha doesn’t elaborate any further about this, but maybe it’s supposed to feel like you’re riding an animal?
I’m also not entirely sure how you’re supposed to ride this thing. The original Motoroid clearly had a seat and a pair of video game flight stick-style grips for you to hold. I see a pair of handles on the Motoroid 2, but the seat is even worse than before. Yamaha shows the cowling open and there’s no seat in there or room to slip in a human body, so it would appear that you would basically lay on top of the Motoroid 2. That’s assuming the little tail area is a seat, and if it is, oh my. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more uncomfortable seat in the history of motorcycling.
There are no bars and the grips are hard-mounted, so there doesn’t appear to be a way for you to physically steer it. Perhaps that’s what all of the haptic stuff is supposed to be for. You communicate with the motorcycle and it responds.
Since the Motoroid 2 is just a concept machine, there are no details about what’s underneath. The motorcycle is propelled by a hub motor and it has a bank of batteries, but Yamaha isn’t specific about power ratings, capacities, or chemistry. Still, the Motoroid 2 is fun to look at.
If you’re lucky enough to go to Japan at the end of the month, you can catch the Motoroid 2 at Yamaha’s display. Meanwhile, I’ll be here wondering how a motorcycle that feels like an animal would be to ride.
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