AV Agusta? Legendary Italian moto-maker MV unveils self-riding 'cycle

Undeterred by Uber's recent 'driverless car' debacle, MV Agusta, a legendary Italian motorcycle marque recently released video of a self-riding MV Agusta motorcycle.

 So far, most motorcycle AV projects look like this BMW C1 scooter modified by  AutoRD  in the UK -- they're bristling with boxes and technology. But the MV Agusta self-riding 'cycle is styled to look almost exactly like the Italian firm's current offerings.

So far, most motorcycle AV projects look like this BMW C1 scooter modified by AutoRD in the UK -- they're bristling with boxes and technology. But the MV Agusta self-riding 'cycle is styled to look almost exactly like the Italian firm's current offerings.

Motorcycle journalists from around the world recently gathered at MV Agusta's headquarters in Varese, Italy, for the launch of the Brutale 800 RR model. At that time, the company's CEO Giovanni Castiglioni told us that he was about to revive the Cagiva brand (founded by his grandfather) and show a new electric motorcycle late this year.

Castiglioni was mum, however, on this far more compelling bit of news: MV Agusta is testing a self-riding motorcycle on Italian highways right now. Although larger brands like Yamaha and BMW have built motorcycle-riding robots and autonomous motorcycles for research purposes, it's fairly clear that the MV project is much closer to a market-ready proposition.

Judging from the video, the MV AV system still needs quite a bit of refinement, but as we've learned, the company has already trademarked 'Ghost' as a model name. We expect it will be the first self-riding motorcycle by any manufacturer, in dealer showrooms by 2020 if not sooner.

 When confronted with our spy video, MV Agusta's third-generation CEO Giovanni Castiglioni told us, "With recent restructuring and new investment, MV Agusta has turned a corner as a company. We are confident that, soon, our self-riding motorcycle, the 'Ghost', will be able to turn corners too."

When confronted with our spy video, MV Agusta's third-generation CEO Giovanni Castiglioni told us, "With recent restructuring and new investment, MV Agusta has turned a corner as a company. We are confident that, soon, our self-riding motorcycle, the 'Ghost', will be able to turn corners too."

Avoiding a false positive just became a huge negative

I was encouraged by the Tempe, AZ police department’s quick release of the dashcam video from the recent Uber fatality. But there are two more layers to this accident investigation, and – as bad as the dashcam video is at first glance – my prediction is that after the NTSB’s investigation, conclusions will be far more damning. And, the ultimate cause of accident should be especially concerning to bicyclists and motorcyclists.

The video already contradicts earlier statements by the police (and others) that this was the kind of accident that would’ve happened with any normal human driver at the wheel. Even the low-res visible-spectrum video that’s been released picks up the pedestrian a couple of seconds out. No attentive human driver would have hit her.

The video already provides a stomach-churn-inducing illustration of the poor record humans have when it comes to monitoring systems that usually work, and the ‘handover’ problem. It’s a powerful argument for Augmented, not Automated Driving.

 With apologies to the New York Times, this (ahem) 'borrowed' graphic shows that the pedestrian/bicyclist crossed at least three lanes of clear, open roadway prior to impact. It's inconceivable to me that the Uber vehicle's lidar system didn't detect her. The implication is that the car's control algorithm decided she was a 'false positive' signal, and chose to ignore her.

With apologies to the New York Times, this (ahem) 'borrowed' graphic shows that the pedestrian/bicyclist crossed at least three lanes of clear, open roadway prior to impact. It's inconceivable to me that the Uber vehicle's lidar system didn't detect her. The implication is that the car's control algorithm decided she was a 'false positive' signal, and chose to ignore her.

And, if my engineer-heavy Twitter feed is any indication, the Uber vehicle's lidar and radar sensors certainly should have detected the crossing pedestrian (with bicycle) even in total darkness. This was, in fact, precisely the kind of scenario in which AV companies claim superiority over human drivers.

If you think this could not be worse for Uber, and the AV business in general, just wait. It’s going to turn out the car did detect the crossing pedestrian, and it ‘chose’ not to slow down.

What I mean is this: AVs process information from a suite of sensors, but that’s just data. The real trick is parsing it and processing it, in order to make the myriad driving decisions that human drivers make all the time.

I’ve had many conversations with engineers and programmers working in this field, and because of my special interest in motorcycles (and bicycles) they’ve often told me, Most of the work’s done to ensure we can identify and avoid pedestrians, at one end of the size scale, and cars and trucks at the other. A lot of the time, we sort of assume that because bicycles and motorcycles are in between those extremes, we’ll pick them up, too.

The challenge comes when the cars’ algorithms start sorting through signals to avoid false positives – situations where the cars’ sensors detect something like leaves swirling in the wind, or heavy spray off a truck’s tires in the rain, and the car applies the brakes when it shouldn’t. AV makers know from their own research that such false positives are not only dangerous for following vehicles, they’re frustrating for the people in the AV.

Avoiding false positives is one of the biggest AI/algorithm challenges when making an AV.

You heard it here first: The Uber vehicle involved in this accident did detect something in the road – something that turned out to be a person, pushing a bicycle, with a profile further camouflaged by several large plastic bags on the handlebar. But the relevant sensor images didn’t match anything in the cars’ ‘experience’ (teleologically speaking) so the car, programmed to avoid false positives, ‘chose’ not to slow down.

If I’m right, this is the most damning possible cause for an accident. We’d excuse, or at least sympathize with, a human driver  who said, It was dark; it was not a place I expected someone to cross; I just didn’t see her until it was too late.

But we’d throw the book at a human driver who said, Sure I saw her, but I just don’t stop for people pushing bicycles with those fucking garbage bags on the handlebar.

And, if I’m right, this accident really emphasizes the subtleties of (even crappy) human driving, and the remaining challenges of building an AV that will be meaningfully better at driving. Human drivers slow down, avoid, and stop for all kinds of things before they figure out exactly what they are.

 It's not a laughing matter, but this Twitter user pretty much nails the problem.

It's not a laughing matter, but this Twitter user pretty much nails the problem.

This is a powerful argument for Augmented, not Automated Driving... If the Uber ‘safety driver’ had been paying attention and seen the car’s lidar imagery on a heads up display in the windshield, the incident would not even have resulted in a close call. It’s easy to imagine a system that would have alerted the driver to something in the road ahead, at least two or three seconds away, at which point any average human driver would have had an excellent chance of avoiding a collision on a wide and unobstructed roadway under good traction conditions – especially in a vehicle (like the one modified by Uber) that includes excellent ABS.

Thanks to the R&D done in pursuit of AVs we now already have the technology to dramatically augment human drivers’ capabilities and safety, we're just not applying it. That massive, global R&D effort will – eventually – safely and conveniently replace many human drivers and lead to improved mobility for non-drivers. But until then, this accident emphasizes the risks of rushing to take human drivers out of the equation before AVs are smart enough to make all our decisions for us.

The case for Augmented Riding

In an extreme case of WTFism, while I was writing this post, news broke of the first fatal collision between an Uber vehicle in full-auto mode and a bicyclist near ASU in Tempe, AZ. The Uber vehicle had a safety driver in place. On the face of it, the accident seems to illustrate humans' poor ability to monitor fully-autonomous systems. Would this accident have happened if Uber had been developing an Augmented, as opposed to Autonomous vehicle? Highly doubtful. (And, by the way, Uber of all companies, is the one that should be working on Augmented Driving tech, which would make all its human drivers, who get no additional training and little vetting, safer.)

Over the last week or two, I’ve been following the auto writer and general iconoclast Alex Roy’s posts on the topics of a ‘Human Driver's Manifesto’ and on the auto industry’s misguided effort to usher in higher levels of automation before they’re really ready for prime time.

Roy interviewed Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, who is a member of the Department of Transportation’s Adivisory Committee on Automation in Transportation, and got an earful on the fundamental problem with SAE Level 2 & 3 automation: the need for occasional transition back to human operation.

 Interestingly, I have only two degrees of separation from Capt. Sullenberger.  Todd Komarnicki , the screenwriter who wrote 'Sully' is currently working on a screenplay based on my book 'Riding Man'.

Interestingly, I have only two degrees of separation from Capt. Sullenberger. Todd Komarnicki, the screenwriter who wrote 'Sully' is currently working on a screenplay based on my book 'Riding Man'.

As a motorcyclist, I have a low opinion of most drivers’ skills. But as has been demonstrated, the transition from inattention to attention takes a long time. Automakers’ half-hearted attempts to build in systems that encourage drivers to keep a hand on the steering wheel, or that monitor drivers’ eye movements don’t really address the larger issue, which is that it’s not a matter of whether the driver has his hands on the wheel (at least occasionally) or has his eyes on the road, it’s whether he has his mind on the road.

As Roy points out, the big investments (and lobbying efforts) in automated driving have often been made by companies like Uber, Google, and Apple, which have a financial incentive to remove steering wheels altogether from cars, ASAP. Phantom Auto is an example of a company that provides remote driving capability for otherwise-autonomous vehicles when they meet a situation their algorithms can’t resolve. Needless to say, Phantom’s human operators at remote controls are not any better than drivers in situ when it comes to suddenly assessing hazardous conditions.

Sullenberger and Roy discussed the advantages of systems used in commercial aviation, which keep pilots engaged, and provide improved flight information while preventing (or at least discouraging) pilots from providing control inputs that are outside their aircraft’s performance envelope.

Roy is a fan of ‘Augmented Driving’—basically redirecting all the efforts that go into lower levels of automation, to keep drivers engaged while improving their situational awareness, rather than lulling them into complacency, and to provide feedback that would discourage or prevent behavior that would cause accidents.

 I recently spent a day  riding the new MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR around Lago Maggiore,  in northern Italy. I can tell you that knowing what road conditions were like around the next corner would have dramatically improved my experience.

I recently spent a day riding the new MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR around Lago Maggiore, in northern Italy. I can tell you that knowing what road conditions were like around the next corner would have dramatically improved my experience.

 And, in a small group of expert, professional riders, I rode behind another journalist who left his turn signal flashing for miles, because the tiny, tiny green indicator light on the motorcycle’s minimalist dashboard was completely invisible. (I would have tried to pass him and signal his error, but we were all riding like friggin’ maniacs and I judged the move too risky.)  Self-canceling turn signals are admittedly a much harder technical challenge for motorcycles than cars , but this is an example of a situation that should prompt the motorcycle to ask, "Do you really want to do this?.."

And, in a small group of expert, professional riders, I rode behind another journalist who left his turn signal flashing for miles, because the tiny, tiny green indicator light on the motorcycle’s minimalist dashboard was completely invisible. (I would have tried to pass him and signal his error, but we were all riding like friggin’ maniacs and I judged the move too risky.) Self-canceling turn signals are admittedly a much harder technical challenge for motorcycles than cars, but this is an example of a situation that should prompt the motorcycle to ask, "Do you really want to do this?.."

As a group, motorcyclists are skeptical of the ‘safety’ of autonomous cars and trucks, and vehemently opposed to the very idea of autonomous motorcycles (although Yamaha has built a robot rider, and BMW’s R&D chief once admitted to me that BMW had built a self-riding bike for research purposes.)

Augmented Riding would be a far more acceptable proposition to most motorcyclists, and a lot of the technology is already available. The best available traction control and anti-lock braking systems which use IMU data are already impressive; protective clothing that deploys airbags when a crash is detected—often even before an impact—is available; Bosch has a blind-spot warning system; helmets with HUD systems already exist and will soon be more common and more useful.

An integrated approach, even to just the existing technology available to motorcyclists, would improve motorcycle safety. Layering in automotive style FCW systems and aircraft style haptic feedback would only involve repackaging existing tech (which, I realize, is not that easy, but still...) Soon, hyper-accurate mapping, and the kind of networked connectivity promised by 5G evangelists, could cut our currently dramatic rates of death and injury, without taking any of the fun out of riding.

As a motorcyclist, I hate the idea of people cruising along, inattentive, while their Level 2 (or, “it’s Level 3 but we’re not calling it that for liability reasons”) system drives their car. I would prefer drivers to have augmented driving tech at their disposal, that will make both of us safer. As a motorcyclist, I’m dead set against the Phantom Auto solution where the same ‘transition time’ lag will occur, but thousands of miles away. As a motorcyclist, I’m uninterested in automated riding, and doubt that there will ever be an effective Phantom Moto company ready to take over the control of my motorcycle.

However as a motorcyclist, I love the idea of Augmented Riding, and I am sure it will be easy to sell. Bosch? Connected Motorcycle Consortium? Let’s not just blindly ride down the road being mapped by Uber, et al.

Cruisin' for a bruisin': Deconstructing the first 'Level 4/5' AV-motorcycle accident

By now most HAVstory visitors already know that, about two months ago, a GM Cruise autonomous vehicle had a minor accident with a motorcycle on the streets of San Francisco. Although I’ve written elsewhere about other cars hitting motorcycles while in semi-autonomous mode (e.g. Tesla Autopilot) as far as I know, this recent Cruise incident is the first reported collision between a fully autonomous auto and a motorcycle on public roads.

 Last December, a Chevy Bolt test mule, like one of these, was involved in what I believe was the first collision between a fully autonomous vehicle and a motorcycle on public roads.

Last December, a Chevy Bolt test mule, like one of these, was involved in what I believe was the first collision between a fully autonomous vehicle and a motorcycle on public roads.

So, what happened?

The motorcycle rider, a Swedish photographer named Oscar Willhelm Nilsson, has initiated a lawsuit against General Motors. In the unlikely event this matter goes to trial, I suppose we’ll learn exactly what happened, but in the interim, based on the disengagement report GM filed with the State of California, the Allegations of Fact in Nilsson’s lawsuit, and email exchanges with both Mr. Nilson and his lawyer, here’s what HAVstory currently knows.

 This is a Google street view image of the block where the collision occurred. (No, I did not park that rare Honda Hawk GT in the frame just to make motorcyclists drool.)

This is a Google street view image of the block where the collision occurred. (No, I did not park that rare Honda Hawk GT in the frame just to make motorcyclists drool.)

The accident occurred on Oak Street, in San Francisco, just past the intersection with Fillmore, in the Lower Haight neighborhood. Oak is a one-way street with three travel lanes; it’s lined with parallel parking on both sides. It occurred on a Thursday morning, just after 9:30, at a time when all three travel lanes were occupied.

 Oscar Nilsson was riding this sweet little 1969 Honda S90. (It was misidentified as a 1996 motorcycle in GM's report.)

Oscar Nilsson was riding this sweet little 1969 Honda S90. (It was misidentified as a 1996 motorcycle in GM's report.)

The Cruise test mule was a 2016 Chevy Bolt EV, operating in fully autonomous mode with a test driver, Manuel DeJesus Salazar in the driver's seat . According to GM’s disengagement report, it was traveling in the center lane at 12 miles per hour, when…

“Identifying a space between two vehicles (a minivan in front and a sedan behind) in the left lane, the Cruise AV began to merge into that lane. At the same time, the minivan decelerated. Sensing that its gap was closing, the Cruise AV stopped maldng [sic] its lane change and returned fully to the center lane.”

While that was happening, Oscar Nilsson was filtering up through the Oak Street traffic at about 17 miles per hour. Oscar was riding a stylish 1969 Honda S90. He was ‘lane-splitting’ or filtering between lanes 2 & 3, i.e. approaching the Bolt from the right rear.

When the Chevy began moving to the left, Oscar also tracked forward and left – as you would when filtering to optimize the distance between vehicles. He moved into the space vacated by the Bolt.

It would be reasonable–and indeed a motorcycle safety ‘best practice’–to accelerate into that vacated space. For safety reasons a filtering motorcyclist always needs to be aware that any new gap can be seen as an opportunity for surrounding car drivers. It’s safer to be in that gap and ideally abreast of adjacent autos, rather than in the traffic seam, between that gap and a potentially inattentive driver.

But in this instance, when the CAV ‘changed its mind’ and “re-centered” in the middle lane, it sideswiped Nilsson.

This is where things get interesting.

Apparently, as reported in Traffic Collision Report #l70989746, the motorcyclist was determined to be at fault for attempting to overtake and pass another vehicle on the right under conditions that did not permit that movement in safety in violation of CVC 21755(a). (“The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting that movement in safety. In no event shall that movement be made by driving off the paved or main-traveled portion of the roadway.”)

Most California motorcyclists would not consider Mr. Nilsson’s maneuver to be an overtake. Although lane-splitting was legally defined in California in 2016, the practice continues to exist in a gray area. According to the California DMV…

California law does not allow or prohibit motorcycles from passing other vehicles proceeding in the same direction within the same lane, a practice often called "lane splitting," "lane sharing" or "filtering."

I traded emails with Sergei Lemberg, Mr. Nilsson’s lawyer, who wrote...

“Absolutely nothing prohibits safe and reasonable lane splitting at present. We believe the GM car was at fault, veering into and hitting Mr. Nilsson. The operator of the GM vehicle states in the police report that he saw Mr. Nilsson before the collision, but didn't have enough time to grab the wheel. The maneuver by the autonomous car was unpredictable and dangerous.”

It seems to me that the lawsuit, if it comes to trial, will hinge on a question of fact: Was Nilsson making an unsafe pass, or was he lane-splitting in a manner long accepted in California–which might mean the Cruise AV was at fault when it returned to its lane?

An alert human driver in that situation should have realized that when he started to vacate his lane position, another vehicle might move into it.

Considering Mr. Nilsson’s slow closing speed, a skilled human driver checking rear view mirrors every few seconds would likely have been aware of Mr. Nilsson’s approach in the 2-3 seam–but even if the driver was not aware of Mr. Nilsson, any vehicle in Lane 3 might have decided to move into Lane 2. If I got part way through a lane change to the left and suddenly changed my mind and decided to abort that maneuver, I would definitely throw a right-side shoulder check before moving back.

At the very least, the fact that the Cruise AV moved back into a space occupied by a full-sized person and a Honda S90 suggests an inadequacy in the Bolt’s sensor package. And Cruise got a valuable data point on the behavior of filtering motorcycles.

It’s interesting to speculate on whether, if this lawsuit goes to trial, GM will attempt to present video evidence from the Cruise AV. I imagine such video exists (and I would love to hear from anyone who can confirm my guess that it does.)

I ride motorcycles in California quite often. Frankly, I’m a little worried about a well-funded and motivated defendant (GM) establishing a precedent that would more strictly define lane-splitting and the conditions if any when it should be allowed. In fact, I’m a little worried that AV companies will put pressure on California to come into line with other states and ban the practice. The reason GM shouldn’t do that is simple: lane-splitting is an accepted and fully legal practice in the rest of the world. We motorcyclists enjoy the right to filter and AVs need to be able to safely deal with us.

Ford's HUD patent drawings seem to emphasize motorcycle detection

Ford recently filed a patent application for a full-windshield Heads-Up Display system that would allow a driver to both see the road in front of him (or her) and see a graphical interpretation of what the car's ADAS systems are 'seeing'. The Ford application lays out an immediate use for this technology, in an R&D setting. However, Ford also mentions possible uses in future production models.

 Did the engineers at Ford read my Common Tread stories about motorcyclists' CAV anxieties? Are they trying to reassure motorcycle riders by showing us a motorcycle being detected?

Did the engineers at Ford read my Common Tread stories about motorcyclists' CAV anxieties? Are they trying to reassure motorcycle riders by showing us a motorcycle being detected?

Of course, at HAVstory the first thing we noticed had nothing to do with the patent: It was that Ford's schematics illustrate the system's function using a motorcycle as 'principal other vehicle'. It's as if Ford is trying to reassure motorcyclists, telling us, "Don't worry, we're making sure our systems can 'see' motorcycles.

The initial focus of the patent description is narrow: Ford describes using it in R&D situations that currently require one engineer/tester to sit in the driver's seat watching the road while another engineer sits in the passenger seat monitoring CAV systems. Ford imagines that a full-windshield HUD would allow one engineer to do the work of two.

However, serious car guys immediately latched on to the benefit of a such a system in a production context; it would allow drivers to essentially 'check' ADAS/CAV systems in real time and in all likelihood be interesting enough to minimize driver distraction in the dreaded 'Level 3 attention gap'.

The patent was filed by Ford Global Technologies LLC in Dearborn, although all four inventors (Mohamed Ahmad, Harpreetsingh Banvait, Ashley Elizabeth Micks, & Nagraj Rao) are based in Silicon Valley

 "Yup, it sees that motorcycle."

"Yup, it sees that motorcycle."

You can see Ford's patent filing here.

Want drivers to embrace increasing levels of automation? Make brilliant ads like this.

American visitors to HAVstory may not have seen this Audi ad, which highlights several features from Audi's suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.

The ad agency was BBH London for Audi UK. (I'm not sure why all the autos appear to have left-hand drive; perhaps Audi will run it outside the UK.) 

Pitch-perfect production and sound design raise this great ad concept to the level of art, all in service of presenting various SAE Level 1 & 2 features in several different Audi models, ending with automatic parallel parking. Of course, here at HAVstory we're especially pleased that the ad makes a point of demonstrating the car's ability to detect even that tiny monkey-bike.

Yes, other drivers really are a bunch of clowns. Kudos to the BBH Creative Team (Copywriter Doug Fridlund, Art Director Mikael Alcock, Creative Director Ian Heartfield) for turning that tired metaphor into a completely charming TV (and cinema) spot.

Clowns or not, most drivers are still very skeptical about sharing the road with increasingly automated vehicles–to say nothing of trusting them enough to use one. One key element in changing consumer opinion is good old-fashioned advertising.

I would love to see the BBH creative team's take on a really autonomous car. If Audi's to be believed, I may not have to wait too long; the flagship A8 model with Level 3 autonomy will presumably reach dealers soon, and Audi's said it will have a fully-autonomous vehicle on the market by 2020.

Ads for cars like that will have two audiences: a small primary audience of well-heeled customers of course, but a much larger secondary audience of people who will have to share the road with them.

 

 

 

You can't spell DSRC without D.C. (Or with it, apparently.)

One of the reasons I attended the inaugural meeting of the Federal Highway Administration’s new Motorcycle Advisory Council was that I wanted the federal bureaucrats in the room to confirm once and for all that the ‘DSRC mandate’ is dead.

 The MAC is a ten-person committee which “provides information, advice, and recommendations to the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration on matters relating to the motorcyclist safety in the United States and the implementation of noteworthy practices of highway infrastructure related to improvements that will result in positive impact on motorcyclist safety.” HAVstory was there because ‘infrastructure’ for the purposes of the MAC specifically includes V2V and ITS technology.

The MAC is a ten-person committee which “provides information, advice, and recommendations to the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration on matters relating to the motorcyclist safety in the United States and the implementation of noteworthy practices of highway infrastructure related to improvements that will result in positive impact on motorcyclist safety.” HAVstory was there because ‘infrastructure’ for the purposes of the MAC specifically includes V2V and ITS technology.

There appears to be renewed interest in motorcycle safety amongst agencies like FHWA and NHTSA, driven by the widespread impression that while autos (and SUVs, vans, and light trucks) are all getting safer, motorcycles are getting more dangerous.

That may or may not be a fair conclusion to draw from available data (such as FARS) but this is beyond dispute: Everything your mother told you about motorcycles is true. We account for <1% of vehicle-miles traveled in the U.S., but about 14% of all traffic fatalities. Even in places where it’s a.) far harder to get a motorcycle license, and b.) there are far more motorcycles on the road and auto drivers are presumably more used to us–Europe for example–motorcyclists are far more likely to die in traffic accidents.

The MAC is undoubtedly well-intentioned, and although I have no idea how the committee members were chosen, it’s clear they’re also an intelligent, qualified, and (mostly) very experienced group of motorcyclists to boot.

That said, I was struck by the irony that the physical infrastructure solutions the Council may recommend are all fully resolved and well-proved ‘best practices’–things like using crack sealer which provide better traction, or adding a bottom rail to Armco barriers so sliding motorcyclists don’t hit posts. Nothing needs to be invented to improve motorcyclist safety that way, albeit marginally.

But, the MAC won’t even make recommendations for two years, and then the timeline for building out those infrastructure recommendations will be measured in decades–the rate at which current infrastructure comes due for replacement or at the very least major repairs.

Ironically, things like V2V technology for motorcycles–stuff that’s barely been invented, and which will rely on technology we’re still arguing over–could improve our safety far quicker.

Speaking of which, DOT and NHTSA types all refused to be drawn out on the topic of the DSRC mandate, though they talked about it they way the Coast Guard talks about a missing vessel after giving up the search.

The thing is, even factoring in our lost-at-sea DSRC mandate–which will inevitably slow the rollout of V2V and other ITS technology in the U.S.–and assuming that tech like V2V will penetrate the U.S. private-vehicle fleet at the rate of fleet replacement–V2V and other ITS tech still offers both the fastest and most impactful way to move the needle on motorcycle safety.

Ten minutes in Montreal: Hennes Fischer, Connected Motorcycle Consortium

HAVstory’s CEO Mark Gardiner was in Montreal for the 2017 World Congress of the Intelligent Transportation Society. This year, for the first time, the trade show included a booth for the Connected Motorcycle Consortium, and there were two special-interest sessions devoted entirely to motorcycle topics.

 Hennes Fischer has been seconded by his employer, Yamaha Motor Europe, to the CMC; he takes a leading role in government relations and PR. We caught up with him on the show floor.

Hennes Fischer has been seconded by his employer, Yamaha Motor Europe, to the CMC; he takes a leading role in government relations and PR. We caught up with him on the show floor.

HAVstory: Your Yamaha business card describes you only as ‘Senior Advisor’. What exactly do you advise Yamaha on?

Fischer: Anything they ask me about. I started in Product Planning, defining product concepts, and then I worked in R&D, and for the last couple of years I’ve worked in Brussels, on government relations with a focus on motorcycle safety. That’s largely focused on ITS, so that’s why I’m in the ITS world.

As for the Connected Motorcycle Consortium, I’m leader of the working group on PR and Government Relations, and I’m a member of the steering committee.

Give us a quick update on what the CMC’s done so far.

The first public event was the ITS World Congress in Bordeaux (2015) where we announced that we would establish the Consortium. We officially began work this year, and since then several additional members have joined. The core members – BMW, Honda, and Yamaha – also kind of run the consortium, in terms of administration and legally. Kawasaki was the first one to join, we have Suzuki and KTM on board now, and there are a couple of other OEMs that are in the process of joining.

We have ACEM (Association des Constructeurs Européen de Motocycles) as a member, too. We’re all also members because most of us have a factory in Europe. And we’re working with several universities. Dresden University is on board; they do accident research through a company called VUFO and they do in-depth accident studies, so we use them understand the dynamics of motorcycle accidents better, in order to have technical solutions that are based on facts. The University of Darmstadt, which is cooperating on vehicle dynamics studies, and the University of Ingolstadt, which has an ITS group that has done a lot of work for an auto maker. [Audi is based in Ingolstadt]

What are your goals here in Montreal?

Our main goal in participating in the ITS World Congress is to tell the world, “Here we are, and we’re working on motorcycle safety”, and to network. That concerns all kinds of companies and government organizations. We’ve just had a couple of car OEMs come by our booth; we were talking about how to integrate. We’ve talked to ministries of transport yesterday. This is the target audience; we need to talk to all of them because if we want vehicles to talk to vehicles, first people have to talk to people.

The motorcycle industry has a history of being conservative when it comes to adopting new technology, and motorcycle riders that I talk to about HAV/ITS tech are skeptical.

We’re working on that. We’re riders ourselves, so we share their concerns about data protection and privacy. But to bridge the gap we’ve had talks with several user organizations already, and as soon as we have a little bit more to show – to show people how it works in real life, we’ll invite the media and user organizations, because we want this to be accepted. We believe this is a big step for safety, for everyone.

We’re seeing some pretty aggressive debate here in Montreal, on the topic of DSRC vs C-V2X. What is the CMC’s position?

With regards to communication technology, we’re open. To us, that’s just a way to transmit the messages. We’ll go in whatever direction seems most suitable from a technical perspective. At this moment it’s difficult to say which way that will be, so we’re still completely open.

We understand the pluses and minuses of every technology but the motorcycle industry is so much smaller than the car industry that we will not be able to say, “This is the technology we want as motorcyclists or motorcycle makers.” We will have to align with the car guys and make sure that we go in the direction they go, because we need to communicate with every car, whether it’s a Volvo, Ford, BMW, Audi, Chrysler, or whatever it may be.

 When is a round table not round? The Secretary General of ACEM, Antonio Perlot served as Moderator of this actually rather linear 'Motorcycles Talk ITS'&nbsp;discussion. Other participants: Matthias Mörbe (Robert Bosch GmbH), Hennes Fischer, Stephanie Leonard (European Commission), Robert Kreeb (U.S. Dept. of Transportation), John Lenkeit (Dynamic Research Inc.) and Huei-Ru Tseng (Chinese-Tapei Industrial Technology Research Institute).&nbsp;&nbsp;

When is a round table not round? The Secretary General of ACEM, Antonio Perlot served as Moderator of this actually rather linear 'Motorcycles Talk ITS' discussion. Other participants: Matthias Mörbe (Robert Bosch GmbH), Hennes Fischer, Stephanie Leonard (European Commission), Robert Kreeb (U.S. Dept. of Transportation), John Lenkeit (Dynamic Research Inc.) and Huei-Ru Tseng (Chinese-Tapei Industrial Technology Research Institute).  

What is the next goal or milestone for the CMC?

We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding amongst the ACEM members, agreeing that we’ll have C-ITS motorcycles available in Europe by 2020. Those may be optional or standard, and that could be a simple one or a more sophisticated one, but that’s one of the milestones.

Of course, we would like to have the motorcycle safety system – the Motorcycle Approach Indicator system – available as soon as possible, but that depends on the [auto makers] because if it’s not in a car it’s useless. So we can’t say, “We want it by year 20-something,” if it’s not in the cars.

One key to reaching a critical mass of equipped vehicles, for both autos and motorcycles, will be the availability of aftermarket systems. Although the CMC is currently dominated by bike makers, have you given thought to aftermarket V2V systems?

In principle, yes. But of course there are technical limitations. Many of the older bikes don’t have a CAN [Controller Area Network bus] so a lot of information’s not available. But in principle we’re looking at it; it’s just not clear to what extent older bikes would be able to transmit meaningful messages.

Another factor in reaching critical mass may be convincing people to pay more for a V2V system that will, in the beginning, only interact with a few other vehicles and as such may not effectively prevent many collisions. I’ve spoken to companies looking at other features they can package with a V2V system – so they can sell the ‘sizzle’ of some convenience features and give away the ‘steak’ of safety. Is the CMC considering a similar strategy to promote V2V in the early going?

The Consortium’s focused on safety, although of course the individual companies will come up with ideas to make their products appeal to their unique customers. The Consortium focuses on safety issues and the things we need to ‘standardize’ between us so that every motorcycle will speak the same language.

Living in the U.S., where Cadillac already has a V2V-equipped CTS sedan on the market, I’m curious about Harley-Davidson’s status. Will Harley-Davidson join the CMC any time soon?

Well, they’re a member of ACEM, and they’ve signed the MOU. [Company representatives] have attended some sessions where we’ve discussed future plans; but of course I can’t speak for their internal decisions.

How does a company join the CMC? What’s the scale of the financial commitment?

There is a financial commitment, but it’s very reasonable. We are mostly keen on input, that means manpower – we’re clear on membership levels, in terms of how much manpower you have to input.

How many people are involved?

We have companies that have a couple of people; we have companies that have more people involved but not full time – but you have to have a significant involvement. Most of the people working for the CMC have other duties at their companies, but they’re mainly working in the safety area, and in fact mainly working on connectivity and ITS matters.

Is there another question I should have asked?

So far, a lot of car companies have solved [autonomous operations around] for cars and bicycles, but if you solved it for cars and bicycles, you haven’t solved it for motorcycles. To detect motorcycles with direct sensors only is an extremely hard problem, and the Tesla is just one example.

We’ve been doing testing, for example, of a motorcycle approaching a car from the rear, as the car’s changing lanes, and there’s many instances where the car simply doesn’t recognize the motorcycle. The challenges are speed, and silhouette; there are so many different shapes of bikes.

So the question is, how do we integrate with the car industry. Most of us are members of Car 2 Car as well, where we have a direct link to the car guys, and we’re making a real effort to get them around our table. Some of them have even called us and asked, “What do you suggest?”

If you break the Law of Unintended Consequences, do you get a ticket? (Hint: Yes)

One of the biggest stories of 2017 is the ongoing discovery of the extent to which the 2016 U.S. election was gamed by Russian propagandists using social media.

 There is a large and growing group of people who feel that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube freely handed Russian trolls social media tools that they used to grotesquely amplify a propaganda program to discredit the U.S. democratic process – a goal that many would say was achieved.

There is a large and growing group of people who feel that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube freely handed Russian trolls social media tools that they used to grotesquely amplify a propaganda program to discredit the U.S. democratic process – a goal that many would say was achieved.

What does this have to do with Highly Automated Vehicles and Cooperative-Intelligent Traffic Systems (beside the fact that the continued discussion includes criticism of companies like Google and Apple, that have their own HAV/ITS projects?)

Answer: This ‘Did the Russians swing the election?’ story – which is not going away – has sensitized the public to the unintended consequences of technological progress. Journalists have noticed that the wording of HR 3388, aka the ‘Self-Drive Act’ basically allows companies in the HAV space to self-regulate, and every day when people read the news, they remember how things worked out when we just trusted Facebook and Google to look out for democracy.

When I look at the comments left by readers of my articles on HAV topics, it’s clear they’re increasingly skeptical of the blandishments from the HAV sector, which come down to, “Don’t worry about a thing. It’s going to be way better and safer, you’ll love it.”  And, they’re equally skeptical about way governments will (ab)use the massive amount of data that will by accumulated by C-ITS.

At HAVstory, we’re obviously sensitive to clients’ proprietary technology and confidential information. However, as an industry moving forward, it’s important to understand that an important group of consumers (and voters) are primed to push back against the introduction of HAV/C-ITS technology, not because they don’t trust it to actually work, but because they have reasonable fears of unintended consequences.

 Luckily, Mark Zuckerberg has provided us with an object lesson in how not to handle this kind of PR problem. Going forward, transparency will be a key to developing trust with the public at large – especially because for some time, HAVs will be sharing the roads with a majority of vehicles that are driven (and ridden) by good old human beings.

Luckily, Mark Zuckerberg has provided us with an object lesson in how not to handle this kind of PR problem. Going forward, transparency will be a key to developing trust with the public at large – especially because for some time, HAVs will be sharing the roads with a majority of vehicles that are driven (and ridden) by good old human beings.

Mobileye/Intel just released a White Paper titled ‘A Plan to Develop Safe Autonomous Vehicles. And Prove It.’

While I find little to fault in the factual material presented by Mobileye, I think that Trucks Venture Capital’s Reilly Brennan is on the money with his summary of this paper, when he writes, “A close reading of this document and 'rules for fault in advance' makes you wonder if companies in this posture are just trying to establish a blanket immunity.”

Mr. Brennan highlighted this exemplary quote written by Professors Amnon Shashua and Shai Shalev-Shwartz, “From a planning and decision-making perspective, the AV system would not issue a command that would lead to the AV causing an accident.”

I’m sure Shasua & Shaley-Shwartz (trying saying that three times quickly!) believe that statement. But from our perspective as communications strategists, their choice of wording is unfortunate. The public’s no longer going to be receptive to an argument that opens with, “Let’s begin by accepting the premise that we’re infallible,” if it ever was.

A note from the Dept. of Comments We Never Tire of Reading

My Common Tread series has attracted hundreds of thoughtful comments by motorcyclists from all over the world. In fact, those comment strings serve as an interesting survey of motorcyclists' current beliefs and attitudes towards HAV/ITS technology, and exchanges with commenters have allowed HAVstory to effectively workshop explanations that clarify motorcyclists' current misunderstandings. Watch for an upcoming HAVstory White Paper, HAV our cake and eat ITS too: Changing Motorcyclists' Attitudes Towards HAV/ITS

The autonomous motorcycle softly creeps in

Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs division just announced a sweeping and ambitious plan to create an entire city neighborhood that would function as a tech lab. The project, in Toronto, will of course serve as a test site for Waymo projects.

 This image provided by Google (and which they've gone to some trouble to ensure looks 'hand-drawn') includes vehicles that look a lot like Google's first driverless car prototypes. There are also lots of bicycles evident. What got HAVstory's attention were references in the press release to things that sound a lot like driverless motorcycles.

This image provided by Google (and which they've gone to some trouble to ensure looks 'hand-drawn') includes vehicles that look a lot like Google's first driverless car prototypes. There are also lots of bicycles evident. What got HAVstory's attention were references in the press release to things that sound a lot like driverless motorcycles.

According to Bloomberg Technology, among others...

Sidewalk said it will tap partners, including Alphabet’s Waymo, to test multiple types of self-driving vehicles in the Eastern Waterfront area of Toronto. It proposed a van with six to twelve seats for low-density transit routes, and "a personal vehicle more like a bike than a car in size."

And...

In the near-term, Sidewalk plans to run a six-to-twelve person autonomous shuttle in the summer in a specific area of Toronto to get residents used to the technology. "Single-person self-driving vehicles might eventually be integrated into an elevated transport system, such as a gondola." 

A few months ago, we noticed that Yamaha was an early investor in Veniam – a company that's already building V2X mesh networks.

 When we finally caught up with Veniam's CEO João Barros, he was in Singapore, where the company has a vehicle network up and running.&nbsp;

When we finally caught up with Veniam's CEO João Barros, he was in Singapore, where the company has a vehicle network up and running. 

João Barros was circumspect about the work his company is doing with Yamaha, but he spoke of a future in which some sort of self-driving vehicle – "whether it's a motorcycle or some other kind of pod" – would make sense for the purposes of single-passenger on-demand transportation.

Meanwhile Yamaha is teasing us that, at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show, it will finally tell us 'who' (or what) is faster: Motobot, or Valentino Rossi? So far, Motobot's pretty much been a PR stunt, but if it can lap a race track as fast as the world's best rider, the proof would go a long way towards giving passengers confidence in fully autonomous two-wheelers.

The New York Times and a false equivalency that's holding us back

The New York Times recently ran a lead editorial expressing a fairly strong skepticism about the future of self-driving automobiles.

 C'mon, you know I had to jump in. But even I was surprised to get over 70 upvotes and a Times' Pick from the editors I'd just taken to task.

C'mon, you know I had to jump in. But even I was surprised to get over 70 upvotes and a Times' Pick from the editors I'd just taken to task.

Although the Times editors made a number of good points, they fell into a false equivalency that's unfortunately common in mainstream media, as evidenced by this passage...

While companies like Alphabet, General Motors and Tesla are investing billions of dollars to turn lofty goals for driverless cars into reality, the Pew Research Center found that most people surveyed did not want to ride in them and were not sure whether the vehicles would make roads safer or more dangerous (39 percent vs. 30 percent). And 87 percent favored requiring that a person always be behind the wheel, ready to take control if something goes wrong.

I'm a big fan of the Pew Research Center and I'm sure that from a purely statistical perspective, that 39% vs. 30% statistic holds up. But the Times cites it as if those people hold informed positions – something that's certainly not the case.

Motorcyclists are, if anything, even more skeptical of HAV/ITS than the people Pew surveyed. One risk is that the motorcycle manufacturers, aftermarket suppliers, and the tiers supplying us with systems and technology, will base product decisions – or decide not to take products to market at all – on the opinions of uninformed consumers.