The technology of self-driving cars promises to transform the automotive industry as we know it, but could also change the motorcycle industry, albeit in very different ways. According to Karl Viktor Schaller, head of development at BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle division of BMW, it’s all a matter of safety. When will the robots to control the steering wheel, deaths of motorcyclists on the road will diminish considerably, something that will not leave indifferent all those people who would like a bike but have always been too scared to buy one. “It would be a big improvement for motorcycle safety,” said Schaller, “which would ensure the expansion of the group of potential users.”
The math is simple and persuasive. Think of a left turn on any road: although apparently does not have much to do with a biker, a turning vehicle crossing a lane of traffic going in the opposite direction is one of the most dangerous things of going into motion: the United States is the cause of road death by a motorcyclist in five, according to accident statistics from the National Highway Traffic safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the US government that deals with road safety. This year in the United States about a thousand motorcyclists die because of a left turn made by other vehicles. Cars traveling in the same direction of motion often do not realize they are passed to the left, while the cars coming from the opposite direction and turn left often do not see the motorcycle coming or appraise bad speed.
Cars that drive themselves, in theory, will not make any of these mistakes. To begin with, they will be able to “see” the bikes using sensors or radar, which will warn the driver or prevent him from cutting the road to the bike. But it is only the beginning: the bikes will arrive to “talk” to all other vehicles on the road, constantly pointing out their position, direction and speed. “We can use these features to build an electronic safety cage around the bike,” said Schaller.
When all the riders aspiring understand that the next driver to them is not a threat to their lives, in some countries will increase sales. According to Xavier Mosquet, partner of the consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, the sales growth will be more pronounced in markets like the United States – where people ride motorcycles for recreation – and China and India, where many choose the bikes because I am a relatively cheap means of transport. In places like Europe however, where the bikes are often the best way to avoid the traffic, the cars that drive themselves may actually bring down the sales of motorcycles, said Mosquet. If all goes as planned, there will be less traffic jams, accidents and delays to observe an incident, and consequently use a bike to travel between the lanes of stopped traffic will be less beneficial. “I depend on the motivation and the place,” said Mosquet.
Anyway, the bikes and the companies that produce them are waiting impatiently for the spread of the cars that drive themselves. In the last 18 months in the US the number of deaths on the road has grown: last year road deaths rose 7.2 percent – the biggest increase since 1966 – and the first half of this year increased further of 10.4 percent. The head of the NHTSA Mark Rosekind described the increase in road deaths “an immediate crisis.”
In the United States a disproportionate number of these fatal accidents involving motorcyclists, as shows a disturbing statistic: despite percorrano less than one percent of the mileage of all vehicles, motorcyclists killed on the road in 2015 were 14.2 percent. The main problem is that today Americans drive more, thanks to a rise in the labor market and the low price of gasoline. But also by taking as a benchmark the mileage death rates are alarming. The NHTSA is the fault of the influx of younger drivers who have no experience and are more likely to drive unconsciously. Even the distraction is a problem: it is estimated that one out of ten fatal accident is caused by drivers who do not watch the road, although the actual number may be much higher than indicated by the data. An official from the NHTSA, who asked not to be named, said that the distraction is difficult to measure after the fact, unlike the alcohol levels in the blood. But the big diffusion of smartphones and the habit to write messages while driving is often cited as a possible cause.
The hope is that the cars that drive themselves to reduce these numbers. And if these new technologies also will give courage to a new group of motorcycle enthusiasts you will soon be seen. Mark Reuss, head of product development of General Motors, said that the new systems will take care of the “majority” of rail cars by 2020 and will be fully in command by 2025. The Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made a forecasting similar: according to him half of the cars produced in 2022 or 2023 will be fully automated.
For bikes that drive themselves, however, it may take longer. Yamaha, which is developing a cyborg able to ride a motorcycle called Motobot, expected to arrive at least ten years behind the car. Automatic functions, however, will help motorcyclists already much earlier: BMW is considering a number of systems that can map the road and report to the biker curves and the track conditions. If the bike is estimated that in view of an upcoming survey speed is excessive, it can warn the driver.
In the case of cars the compromise causes a hardening driving could become boring. Ride a bike instead become safer but will remain fun. Riding a motorcycle will continue to mean drive, while the cars will mostly check emails and catch up on Game of Thrones. “The feeling of riding a bike is not moving from point A to point B,” said Schaller. “The direction of the motion is to get from A to A. Our business is pleasure.”