Safety fears as driverless cars steer a course for UK

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The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced that we could see self-driving cars on UK roads by the end of 2021, leading to renewed concerns for motorcycle safety.

The DfT says automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS) would be the first type of hands-free driving legalised, possibly before the end of 2021. The technology controls the position and speed of a car in a single lane and will be limited to 37mph (60km/h).

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However, the Motor Cycle Industry Association (MCIA) has raised concerns about what the new technology may mean for bikers.

Karen Cole, MCIA Director of Road Safety and Rider Training, said: “The motorcycle industry welcomes new technology that can reduce the number of casualties on our roads, particularly if there is a safety benefit for riders.

“But we have concerns about ALKS due to a lack of clarity from a consultation document – it is unclear whether motorcycles will be consistently and reliably recognised by vehicles fitted with ALKS.

“Some manoeuvres only carried out by motorcycles, such as filtering, need to be factored into testing, as currently there have been no assurances any of the new technologies will cope with the unexpected appearance of a motorcycle.

“To ensure the safety of riders, auto manufacturers should liaise with their two-wheeled counterparts to ensure that motorcycles are included in the early research and development phases of any new technology.”

Video: Tesla update allows autopilot system to see motorcyclists

First published on 03 January, 2019 by Jordan Gibbons

The Tesla is able to pick out filtering motorcycles

Developments with Tesla’s autopilot system are now enabling their driverless cars to ‘see’ bikes that are filtering between moving traffic. This is a huge step forward for autonomous vehicles as motorcycles present numerous problems for them.

Not only are bikes small but they tend to move erratically, unlike cars that are large and (with some obvious exceptions) tend to stick to a single lane.

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This makes tracking bikes, and therefore predicting their next moves, very difficult and presents a huge challenge for autonomous vehicle adoption. To combat this problem, Tesla have been working on a more advanced ‘neural net’ that can identify the presence of numerous vehicles, both large and small, around the car.

In a video of a Tesla Model 3 running the firm’s latest Version 9 software, the car can be seen sensing bikes as they filter between vehicles.

Although it’s far from perfect, the Tesla sometimes mistakes the bike for a car or places it in the adjacent lane, it certainly shows promise. In cases where the cameras have missed the bikes, the ultrasonic sensors still pick them up, which would result in an audible warning if the driver had put an indicator on or attempted to change lanes.

Considering how difficult some drivers find spotting bikes, the fact a computer manages it is incredibly impressive. However, this does represent one slightly more worrying step towards Judgement Day…

BMW’s riderless bike tech could save lives

First published on 26 October, 2018 by Matt Wildee

Electro-mechanical steering actuator allows the bike to turn

We’re trackside watching a BMW GS do its stuff. So far, so normal. But there’s one crucial difference: the bike is riding itself.

It’s no party piece. BMW’s self-riding bike has been developed to showcase anti-crash technology. Using GPS and radar to monitor road position and a fully-automated riding system, the machine can navigate around a track, avoid obstacles and even start and stop on its own.

But while in the case of this multi-million pound development bike, the rider is rendered obsolete, BMW say we don’t need to panic about humans being made redundant.

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“We can shift gears and we can steer the bike without a rider, but the fully automatic motorcycle is not our goal,” said BMW Active Motorcycle Safety expert, Stefan Hans. “This is about development and if we can create a bike that can cope with all riding tasks we can offer it as an assistance system for the rider.

“Technical advancement for safety has been much slower for bikes. For example, ABS on cars came ten years before it did on bikes, traction control 20 years later. Cars now can intervene before something dangerous happens and we need to learn more about bikes to help riders avoid getting themselves into a critical situation.”

We wonder how much this technology will cost to the average customer?

All the functions that would normally be operated by the rider now have electro-mechanical control. There is a steering actuator which controls the bike’s path, an automated clutch and gearbox with its own shifter.

The ride-by-wire throttle is now controlled entirely by a computer rather than by the twistgrip and there is a sidestand that retracts when the bike starts to move off.

Using data from the IMU together with a GPS system that plots the bike’s path, inputs are made to the steering to keep it upright. Of course, this takes a huge amount of computing power, firstly by measuring the inputs of normal riding and then replicating them with the electro-mechanical devices.

Combined with this, the bike has radar similar to the anti-crash system already used on cars, allowing it to ‘see’ danger up to three seconds in advance and it can avoid action.

BMW won’t say when they will introduce this tech to road models, but expect to see it filter down in the next few years, with active collision avoidance a possibility.

Riderless motorbike helps to improve driverless cars

First published on 30 May, 2018 by Ben Clarke

The BMW C1 is capable of driving itself

Wiltshire-based firm A B Dynamics has developed a BMW C1 capable of driving itself to help make self-driving cars safer for riders.

Motorbikes have long presented a challenge for the developers of autonomous vehicles who have to prove their technology in a growing number of real-world scenarios, including interactions with motorbikes.

The problem is that you can’t just send a biker out to ride around with a test vehicle and see if it knocks them off.

Initially, the developers used “controlled soft targets” to mimic the movement of motorbikes, but their low speed and poor manoeuvrability meant that they were no substitute for the real thing.

The technology could make things safer for riders

Dr Richard Simpson, senior systems engineer at AB Dynamics, explained: “A riderless motorcycle allows more comprehensive testing of autonomous or advanced driver assistance system (ADAS)-equipped vehicles, without risking injury to a real rider.

“It also permits greater accuracy, repeatability and consistency between tests than any human rider could achieve.”

The BMW C1 was chosen as it has no manual clutch and sensors can be placed in the roof, but future tests will use more powerful, modern machinery, he added. Autonomous vehicle developers will use the technology to test situations such as overtaking and filtering, but Dr Simpson believes there will be other uses.

“It could also have applications in motorcycle durability testing by removing the human rider from some of the more arduous tests over rough surfaces… cars already use robot drivers to eliminate driver fatigue.”