Test rides go virtual: How computerised R&D tool could help you choose your next machine

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It might lack wheels, engine, and have a top speed of zero mph but this Yamaha is at the heart of the firm’s research and development – combining with virtual reality and simulation software to let engineers test new bikes before they’ve even got off the drawing board.

Essentially a shape-shifting set of motorcycle touchpoints, the Motolator (derived from Moto-Simulator) can be quickly reconfigured to mimic the riding position and ergonomics of virtually any bike, acting as a shortcut to reduce the number of prototypes that need to be built during the early stages of a bike’s development.

The Motolator is already in use at Yamaha’s R&D facilities in Japan but has only now been given a public airing. What does that mean to you and me? Quicker, lower-cost research and development for new and updated bikes, reducing the expense that later has to be recouped from customers.

Yamaha Motolator

It also opens the door to experimenting with setups that might not be greenlit for a more expensive, time-consuming prototyping programme, which might be dead ends but could occasionally lead to unexplored development directions.

Last year Yamaha explained how they’re using virtual reality headsets in R&D projects to test bikes that don’t even exist yet, with fundamental technology researcher Masayuki Miki explaining: “Since VR allows us to ‘ride’ a wide range of products on all kinds of road environments we’ve created, our simulators and VR equipment play an important role in our research into rider–machine dynamics.”

In earlier work Yamaha discovered how getting a realistic connection between tactile and aural feedback reduces ‘VR sickness’ that occurs when what a rider sees isn’t matched by what they feel. The Motolator is another step towards VR or mixed-reality realism in R&D.


Yamaha Motolator rear

Quite simply, the Motolator is a multi-adjustable unit that can be quickly and easily transformed into any set of ergonomics. The bars can be twisted, pivoted, or slid into any imaginable configuration, the pegs and foot controls can be pitched forward or back and slid back and forth. The seat can go up or down and backward or forward, as well as tipped to different angles, and the main frame can even be reconfigured for more significant changes in attitude.

But that’s not all, as the ‘tank’ section is made of three parts, each multi-adjustable in position and angle to mimic the shape and size of real fuel tanks. The rear brake and gear shifter are given realistic feel and connected to a simulator, as are the steering and bar controls.

All the controls are, of course, tied into a simulator, and a by wearing a helmet including a VR headset, test riders can experience computer-modelled handling of the bike being developed before a single real-world component has been produced.

Yamaha Motolator adjustable handlebar rig

Moving into the future, Yamaha have suggested that VR could even allow customer focus groups ‘test’ bikes that are still under development, and further in the future it’s possible that a descendent of the Motolator could become a fixture in dealers, allowing customers to virtually test ride bikes that aren’t in stock or perhaps haven’t even reached production yet.

Virtual insanity: VR software could see more of us trying out prototypes

First published on 28 January 2021 by Ben Purvis

Yamaha VR tech development

Virtual reality is finally starting to fulfil decades of Tomorrow’s World promises and filter into everyday life. It’s even forged a place in the development of new bikes at Yamaha. What’s more, Yamaha have repaid the favour and developed systems to improve VR for everyone else.

VR has been straddling the line between sci-fi and sci-fact for years, with crazy promises made in movies from Tron to The Matrix and Ready Player One reflected in disappointing real-world VR setups with clunky graphics and unwieldy controls. Recently, though, the advent of impressive home systems means the tech is finally coming of age.

For most of us that might mean the chance to explore new places from our living rooms through computer games, but for Yamaha VR opens new doors to improve product development. Masayuki Miki, a member of the joint research team in the Fundamental Technology Research Division at Yamaha’s Technical R&D Centre, explains: “Yamaha has been using riding simulators built around actual motorcycles for some time.

“Since VR allows us to ‘ride’ a wide range of products on all kinds of road environments we’ve created, our simulators and VR equipment play an important role in our research into rider–machine dynamics. It also goes toward achieving our Jin-Ki Kanno development ideal [which is about bikes providing fulfilment as well as transport].”

Yamaha using VR tech to develop motorbikes

In short, it means Yamaha can simulate real-world prototype bikes on the computer, experiment with handling and setup changes and test on a variety of roads to reflect different surfaces and weather, all without the hassle of doing it in real life. Bad news for spy photographers hoping to pap a new model, but great for speeding up development.

But there was a problem. Like many new VR users, Yamaha found their test riders would experience ‘VR sickness’ – nausea brought on as your body struggles to match the visual signals from the VR headset with other sensations that give a different message.

Much work has already gone into reducing this, with a focus on minimising response time in the displays, but Yamaha’s own development has now formed the basis of a scientific paper that shows how adding sound and vibration to match the visual signals helps solve the problem.

“We already had our own theories based on experience, for example no accompanying sound in the simulations seemed to make the sickness worse or that vibration seemed to help reduce its degree, but we had no clear evidence,” said Miki.

He went on to explain that VR means a far bigger group of people (perhaps even customers) will be able to ‘ride’ prototypes, saying: “If this project leads to a substantive solution, it’ll be possible to have riders with different techniques and perceptions participate in tests.”

Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis