Better together: Kawasaki working on hybrid bikes and AI assistants
Kawasaki are exploring hybrid technology and motorcycles with artificial intelligence as they consider the future of motorcycling.
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Following on from their unveiling of an electric prototype at Eicma 2019, Kawasaki say they are now exploring the "possibilities of hybrid technology" with a bike that combines a small "clean running" petrol powered engine with an electric motor and battery power.
"Addressing the contemporary issues of overall electric vehicle range and the trend for many cities across the world to declare zero emission credentials, the new hybrid two-wheeler is still at an early stage but illustrates well the diversity of Kawasaki research into emerging vehicle systems," says Masanori Inoue, General Manager of Marketing and Sales at Kawasaki.
Although details are scarce on the exact nature of the machine Kawasaki are working on, they say its ability to switch from petrol to electric seamlessly would be good for "short to middle distance commuters". To demonstrate this, Kawasaki have released a video that shows the bike running on a dyno, switching from electric to petrol power and a combination of both.
The idea is that riders could ride to the outskirts of a city under petrol power, then continue into the centre on electric power only. Other manufacturers have dabbled with this already – Honda already have a hybrid scooter on sale, albeit not in the UK – whereas others such as BMW have dismissed hybrid bikes due to issues with size and weight.
However Kawasaki say the key to unlocking the technology has come from an unlikely place: trams. Kawasaki Heavy Industries manufacture all sorts of large scale equipment, including scalable nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries they call Gigacells.
These Gigacells are already in use on electric trams in Sapporo, with more research on going. Kawasaki aren’t yet sure if NiMH batteries will be the final power supply for a hybrid bike but they’re confident with their experience they can find a solution.
In another slightly Tomorrow’s World experience, Kawasaki have also been experimenting with motorcycle AI. Currently being trialled with a group of riders in Japan, the AI concept uses an in-helmet voice interface that allows riders to ask the bike questions.
It can be simple stuff such as ‘how much fuel range do I have?’ to more complex questions like ‘what’s the weather at my destination?’ or ‘how’s the traffic on route?’. Perhaps we should ask it, ‘whatever next?’…