Reading between the lines: Honda working on lane assistance system for the bikes of the future

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Honda is developing rider-assistance systems with the aim of making accidents a thing of the past – but rather than taking away control, they’re aiming to nudge us into making the right inputs. 

Honda’s thinking appears to be mirroring the way systems have evolved in cars. Bikes lag several years behind, so we can expect several steps before we see the sort of kit that can intervene entirely to prevent a crash. Since radar-assisted cruise control is already a reality, the next step is a lane-keeping assist system (LKAS).  

That’s precisely what Honda is aiming for, and details of the system they’re developing have appeared in a new batch of patent applications filed in Japan. 

Honda Fireblade patent drawing

LKAS in cars appears in a variety of forms. The simplest monitor the white line on road surfaces, using cameras looking at the road ahead or sensors aiming at the tarmac ahead of the wheels and triggering alerts if you start to drift.  

Activating an indicator to show an intention to change lanes temporarily deactivates the system. More sophisticated cars will nudge themselves back on track, albeit weakly enough to be overridden by driver inputs. At the top of the tree, there are lane-centring systems that require minimal driver input and are just a small step from a simple autonomous driving solution.  

Honda’s new design can countersteer briefly to introduce a change of direction – whether to stay in the lane or to avoid danger – but doesn’t take over entirely. 

Honda ESV prototype

The system is tied in with sensors including a front radar and camera to keep an eye on the white lines and the traffic ahead, but the main element is an actuator that looks rather like a rotary steering damper. Inside, there’s a magnetostrictive torque sensor that monitors changes in magnetic flux to tell whether the rider is making steering inputs and an electric motor to introduce inputs of its own. 

Since bumpy road surfaces can introduce steering movement that doesn’t need to be prevented and could confuse the system, a stroke sensor on the forks disables the steering actuator when it measures movement beyond a pre-determined level. 

Flow charts in the patents show that when there’s steering from the rider, the system won’t intervene. If you’re making a move on purpose, it won’t try to stop you, and if you resist its attempt to steer it will stop trying. The system intends to be unobtrusive until it’s really needed. 

Honda steering actuator and top yoke drawing

As well as LKAS, the system is intended to operate in tandem with radar and the bike’s ABS in emergencies. Honda’s patents give the example of a car suddenly decelerating or swerving ahead, in which case the bike decides whether it’s safer to go left or right and then introduces counter-steering.

It’s overruled by any input the rider makes – so if you’re already taking avoiding action it won’t be activated – but provides a safety net over and above the current state of the art. 

Honda’s plan for zero fatalities 

Honda wants to slash car and motorcycle deaths by half in the next eight years and bring the number to zero by 2050 – and if they’re going to hit that goal we can expect to see a massive influx of rider-assistance systems like this in the very near future. 

Honda system deactivates on bumpy surfaces

The plan combines driver assistance tech with a predictive AI computer system that can spot situations which lead to driving errors before they happen, and is intended to be introduced in the second half of this decade.  

Further ahead, the intention is to introduce ‘Safe and Sound Network Technology’ that allows cars, bikes, roadside furniture and even pedestrians (via their phones) to communicate, allowing a server to create a virtual model of traffic movement to predict and prevent accidents before they even start to unfold. The system is scheduled to be phased in from the 2030s. 

Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis