Riding a motorcycle is not an easy task for a human; it requires balance, concentration, and fast reflexes, and the faster you go, the more demanding it gets. Which makes it the perfect activity for robot designers; they have to vastly improve their robots just to get them on the bike, forget using it properly. Which is why Yamaha is justifiably proud of the Motobot, a robot who can get on a bike and ride like a member of the Hell’s Angels.
But why even put a robot on a motorcycle in the first place? The short answer is that it’s a good way to test and develop better robots. For all that science fiction has told us, it turns out that building a human being in mechanical form is pretty tough to do, not least because of our instincts. We know, in our gut, when something is tilting too far, when something is off balance, and so on. Robots don’t have those instincts: Heck, most robots lack the sense of proprioception, which is a sense of where your body parts are in relation to each other. Imagine having to ride a motorcycle with a wooden foot, and you’ll get the idea of what robots deal with. So Motobot is more impressive than it looks, which we know is saying something.
Yamaha doesn’t intend to put motorcycling robots on every highway; Motobot is a combination of industry showpiece and demo of future technologies, where motorcycles self-balance and are capable of safely stopping by sensing dangers in their environment. But until Yamaha starts having some fun with the internal systems of their motorcycles, expect them to keep rebuilding and having fun with Motobot. Besides, it’s a great conversation piece at parties, especially once they finally get the bus-jumping software up and running.