We may not entirely be at the flux capacitor stage of travel yet, but new transportation technology is due for a massive change. Research into artificial intelligence (AI), self-learning software and processors capable of dealing with the big data they create, is key to transforming the transportation ecosystem.

Which raises the question, why do we need to metamorphosize the transportation ecosystem in the first place? For an incredibly complex subject, that’s relatively easy to answer and comes down to three words, namely; pollution, congestion, and safety

transportation ecosystem

As of 2019, there were approximately 281.3 million vehicles on the road in the United States. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that in a list of the top 10 most congested cities in the world, the US occupies five of these slots.

The consequences of this congestion are multi-dimensional, but the glaringly obvious ones are degradation of air quality and an increase in traffic accidents. Over 138 million US citizens live in areas of dangerously poor air quality, while approximately six million vehicular accidents occur annually.  

Interestingly enough, all of these catastrophic problems could be slashed overnight if everyone were to ride a motorcycle. As that’s unlikely ever to happen, let’s take a look at the bigger picture and see how each problem interconnects and eventually leading to one common denominator.  

1.  Pollution

With the introduction of more severe emissions laws every year, manufacturers are spending incredible amounts of money in the quest for an environmentally friendly vehicle. In 2018, Toyota revealed a spend of over $9 billion on R&D alone.

With advances in engine management control systems, the internal combustion engine is almost at the peak of its development but the switch to electric powered vehicles is inevitable.

Precisely the same is said to be true of the motorcycle industry. The change to liquid cooled engines and more complex electronics are a direct result of strict emissions laws. When you see the likes of Harley-Davidson producing an electric bike though, you know the writing is on the proverbial wall.

transportation ecosystem

2. Congestion

Congestion is a tricky topic as the only way to reduce it is to either have fewer vehicles on the road or build more infrastructures.

Convincing commuters to take public transport might be an option if buses and trains were plentiful, on schedule, and inexpensive, which unfortunately they never are.

As for building more roads, that’s another impossible task. Take a look at the ten lanes of snarled rush hour traffic on the I-405 in LA and ask yourself just how many extra lanes would it take to flow freely.

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3. Safety

So realistically, that leaves it to safety to save the day. So how can safer vehicles and connected transportation reduce congestion and save the planet? The answer seems to be the autonomous electric vehicle.

For autonomous, read self-driving, and if you think that’s slightly futuristic, Toyota begs to differ. Last year the manufacturer devoted almost $4 billion of their R&D budget to this very subject.

With five safety levels of driver intervention in place before becoming entirely autonomous, both Tesla and General Motors already have level 2 AV’s on sale.

To install some measure of accountability for driverless vehicles, Republican Senator John Thune from South Dakota, is currently sponsoring legislation in the form of the AV START Act.

This move can’t come soon enough, as currently driverless cars are being tested on the roads of Pittsburgh, California, and Arizona. The DMV says they have already granted licenses to 60 companies and 300 AV’s

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Big Deal for Bikers

This news may sound great for car drivers, but how is this such a big deal for bikers? It’s huge, as over two-thirds of motorcycle accidents are caused by driver error when vehicles violate motorcyclist’s right of way.

As cocoon radar systems are perquisite on Level 5 self-driving cars, an AV will detect the presence of a bike and automatically intervene if it senses a collision is imminent.

transportation ecosystem

If taking the driver out of the equation would mean a dramatic decrease in motorcycle accidents, less pollution, and no congestion, then bring on this new transportation ecosystem I hear you say!

Therein lays the problem, Level 5 AV’s need three different detection systems including radar, lidar, and camera. All of these systems have been available independently for many years, but the stumbling block lies with the engine management unit (EMU).

Software with the processing capacity to handle all three simultaneously creating a cohesive 3-D picture and interfacing with the vehicle’s hardware, remains elusive. Furthermore, to reach its full potential the software would have to be self-learning.

Currently, auto manufacturers and multi-national tech companies are doing the heavy lifting for research in this area. Historically, it’s only when the technology is in mass production that cost prohibitive components reduce in price and find their way onto motorcycles.

Damon Motorcycles Blazing a Trail

That’s not to say that motorcycle specific tech companies aren’t blazing a trail in their own right. Companies such as Damon are paving the way with bike-mounted radar and live streaming, digital rear view mirrors. This effectively bridges the gap between a smart bike and the rider, bringing new transportation technology into our everyday lives.

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Production versions are yet to be announced by Damon, but according to German auto parts giant Bosch, the wait may soon be over. As early as 2020, Ducati and KTM will adopt versions of their collision avoidance radar warning system.

For Level 5 AV’s to live up to their full potential and provide the answer to a fully-integrated and connected transportation ecosystem, they must rely heavily on one thing; AI.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is key not only because it is needed to operate Level 5 vehicles fully, but also and perhaps more importantly, to swap data between other AV’s and connected traffic management systems.

AI needs to be at the heart of the smart bike if it is ever to evolve past the stage of merely reacting to set algorithms, as is the case with engine intervention.  To take bike-mounted radar to the next step would probably involve auto-intervention and the data produced from every ride would be colossal.

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A daunting task, but it gets slightly mind-numbing when you consider that similar processes would be going on in every other vehicle on the road.

Furthermore, for the AV to make a difference to pollution, congestion and safety, the resulting big data lake of structured and semi-structured minable data would be more of an ocean.

An integrated smart transportation ecosystem may still be a traffic planners dream, but at least the motorcycle world is determined to take rider safety to the next level as soon as possible.

Smart motorcycle technology will without a doubt make bikes easier and safer to ride, which in turn, will encourage more people to see them as a viable transport option.