Researchers who want to leave one of the world’s fastest motorcyclists in their robot’s dust failed in two attempts, but they aren’t ready to give up.
Since late 2014, Menlo Park, Calif.-based SRI International’s robotics division has partnered with Yamaha Motor Co. to perfect Motobot, a humanoid robot that controls an unmodified Yamaha YZF-R1M and transmits data to boost its performance, maneuverability and speed. The goal is to create smoother rides and increase rider safety.
The Yamaha YZF-R1M happens to be the same motorcycle used by Valentino Rossi, a nine-time Grand Prix world champion from Italy whose lap time the SRI/Yamaha team has been trying to beat. The joint venture failed twice by about 30 seconds, most recently in October.
With Motobot 2.0, the second iteration, the team did manage to exceed 124 mph, roughly 30 mph faster than the first version.
Why is speed so important?
“The higher the speed, the greater the requirement on sensing, computing, positioning and more,” said Hiroshi Saijo, CEO and managing director at Yamaha Motor Ventures and Laboratory Silicon Valley. “In short, the higher the speed, the greater the technical challenge. We wanted to establish the comprehensive capabilities of professional test riders.”
He said Yamaha plans to continue collaborating with SRI researchers, though what that next joint project will be is yet to be determined.
Beyond improving future Yamaha motorcycles, SRI and the local Yamaha team said they hope the research will lead to robots integrating with other vehicles, such as farming and mining equipment.
Brian Foster, SRI’s Motobot project manager, said deploying robots on existing unmodified vehicles is far less expensive than creating autonomous vehicles, particularly important in developing nations.
Saijo said such robots could also improve the health and safety of workers by keeping them out of some hazardous industrial zones.
“A key role for robotics is to keep humans away from dangerous or contaminated areas,” Saijo said. “There are many labor-intensive industrial uses … where humans are at risk.”