How can technology take autonomous vehicles beyond personal cars?

Kevin McSpadden

Just a few years ago, automated cars were dismissed as a fanciful idea for the super rich. Today, it almost seems like an inevitable fact of the future; something our grandchildren may take for granted as having ‘always been there’ like computers.

But what about other forms of transportation such as the motorcycle?

e27 spoke with the Hiroshi ‘Hiro’ Saijou, the CEO and Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Ventures and Laboratory in Silicon Valley, to learn about the future-forward tech the company is pursuing and a special robot named MOTOBOT.

Bellow is the edited excerpts.

So to me, an outsider, MOTOBOT looks like a humanoid driven bike. What is the goal of this project?

Okay, so MOTOBOT is a very specific project and as you imagine we have many projects to be released every year.

At this point we are using [other methods] for the final motocycle valuations to check performance and safety.

But if we can do those kind of things by robot, it could be a much much more viable thing because MOTOBOT is a robot and the motorcycle is a machine. So the machine can talk to the robot. Then we can visualise the data and this can be a huge database for us and accelerate our product design to provide better performance and a safer product to the customer.

Actually it is not only that.

We have two big messages to the market. The first one is that robots are covering so many things. Today, a lot is automated. And customers are expecting robots can replace humans, and a lot of people are very scared about that.

Our daily mission is to develop a robot that can work very well if we can provide a very specific purpose for them. But humans are very multi-task and have multi-efficiency skills, but robots still have to have a very specific purpose.

So in this case, we provided a MOTOBOT to just ride a motorcycle.

So he can not count, we can not walk, he can not speak that well. So he is a simplified humanoid robot who can ride a motorcycle… but very, very fast.

The second one, is there are currently automated driving cars to the market. They are may be safer and more convenient.

I think this a great approach and it does good to help people live a happier life. But I would like to get it to happen much much earlier, maybe tomorrow.

[The approach of automated car proponents] is stuck on modifying the car themselves, so the customer must purchase a new car. But maybe they don’t have time; 18 years, 15 years maybe.

But if we can figure out a humanoid driver, instead of an autonomous car, and can fix those robots to their existing cars. Then we can get automated vehicle technology deployed earlier.

And also the autonomous driving technology is targetted towards cars. But there are so many vehicles. Such as bus, trucks and airplanes.

I was going to ask about that. Driverless car technology doesn’t logically transfer to motorcycles. What is the future for bikes? 

Yeah, currently all the cars, motocycles and scooters are designed to force humans to be riding or driving. So basically the shape and design is for us right?


For the future mobility we are thinking about the car, motorcyle will not be optimal solution because today the body of the vehicle is how we can provide a more convenient, more efficient mode of transportation.

So now is a good time to redefine transportation, not only private but public transportation as well.

To answer the question, we can make a very compact vehicle. It has less occupants and would be more efficient. It would be a human-sized vehicle.

In most cases, today, there is only one driver in the car and the other three or four seats are empty. It hurts with traffic congestion and people waste time looking for parking spots.

The whole thing is inefficient, right?

I would like to make the vehicles as compact as possible, with robotics technology and innovative smart mobility. And also the hardware should be connected to a system via connectivity. Then we can redefine other transportation systems.

This can be called mobility as a service.

What are some other projects in the pipeline that may not be related to autonomous vehicles?

Yamaha Ventures is located in Menlo Park, in the Silicon Valley, so we are now very happy to participate in the Smart City initiative. And then we we will provide some of the autonomous mobility, motorcars for shuttle service or last-mile mobility.

The other one is an Internet of Things for vehicles. It is connected to cars, except the car and solution is to provide more instruction to the consumers.

My definition of impactful things is to create a new value in the entire industry. So what we intend to do.

Also Read: Driverless vehicles – should we embrace them or ditch them?

We want people to live more convenient, healthy lives. So we see the vehicle to help people in the city to be more healthy. This is the part of the Smart City I believe.

What are some challenges of integrating high-tech into the motorbike sector?

Not only Yamaha, but most of the established companies have their main business already. So sometimes they are not so aggressive to get their new business area because it’s an unknown area.

So one of the key points is to find a good partner who has the same vision or overlaps their strategy. Then how can we make a mutual partnership to ensure the vision is realised.

So the Yamaha Ventures is the corporate venture arm of the Yamaha corporation. We are very aggressive to be open to collaborate with other industry companies like Google, Verizon and also the universities as well to explore the future.

Where would you like to be in five years?

So [I want] all the players, so not only the vehicle side, but the infrastructure, communication, all of those players thinking about what is our ideal transportation system of the future.

It should be comfortable, happier, convenient.

So I believe, not only Yamaha but there is Toyota and Honda, and if we are moving towards that kind of activity, then we shall work together with those guys to identify what is our future. So I am happy to participate with that kind of alliance.

I would like to make it happen.

Photo and video courtesy of Yamaha Motor Ventures and Laboratory in Silicon Valley

This article, How can technology take autonomous vehicles beyond personal cars? originally appeared on e27

Kevin McSpadden is e27’s Southeast Asia correspondent.

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