Yamaha MotoBot-2 Slotted in-between the various concept bikes at Yamaha’s booth at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show is the tuning fork company’s “MotoBot” together with a video presentation.

The Motobot is Yamaha’s thinly-disguised indirect assault towards Honda’s robotics research (mostly on ASIMO) and happens to be a motorcycle-riding robot that is already an “expert” at riding a motorcycle as compared to Honda’s achievement which is still learning how to run after several years of walking up-and-down the stairs.

Some visitors to the Show have likened the Motobot as something from the Terminator movies starting to become a reality in the near future (although we are sure Yamaha is only thinking of creating something to ride better than a racer than human extinction). Nevertheless, the video shows the Motobot has a whole crew of very serious-looking Yamaha engineers, with a narrative proclaiming itself on “improving my skills every day” to “catch up” on one particular MotoGP racer: Valentino Rossi.

Yamaha’s own press statement on the Motobot reads: “This is an autonomous motorcycle-riding humanoid robot built around a fusion of Yamaha’s motorcycle and robotics technology. R&D is currently under way with the goal of developing the robot to ride an unmodified motorcycle on a racetrack at more than 200 km/h. The task of controlling the complex motions of a motorcycle at high speeds requires a variety of control systems that must function with a high degree of accuracy.

“We want to apply the fundamental technology and know-how gained in the process of this challenge to the creation of advanced rider safety and rider-support systems and put them to use in our current businesses, as well as using them to pioneer new lines of business.”

Manufacturers like Honda and Yamaha have learned a great deal about how to make a motorcycle achieve its maximum potential. In fact, the rules in MotoGP are specifically designed to less the advances engineers are making in traction and stability control, though race teams have also found some pretty clever ways around these rules.

Watch any rider mid-turn though, and you will see them whack the throttle wide-open with their right hand, leaving the motorcycle’s software to figure out how much throttle to actually give the race bike, in order to maximize traction and thus attain maximum speed.

The one things race teams cannot account for though is the rider. Teams can physically setup their motorcycles so that in theory they should provide the ultimate lap time, only to have the rider return to the pits and say the setup is all wrong. With all the telemetry available to teams, concrete objective data analyzing and expressing what the motorcycle is physically doing, we still have a very poor understanding of what the riders do on their machines.

Yamaha MotoBot

This is because riding a motorcycle quickly is a very subjective analysis that only the best minds in the paddock can truly master. Yamaha can learn a great deal from this project, and the benefits can extend beyond just making better motorcycles for you and I to ride.

Text: Philip Chong