AB Dynamics develops new self-driving motorcycle to improve autonomous vehicle testing

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A new self-driving motorcycle, co-developed by AB Dynamics, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of advanced automotive test systems, will allow autonomous cars to be tested under much more challenging and representative conditions.

The new riderless motorcycle can interact with autonomous vehicles (AVs) to enable more exhaustive testing using a wider variety of traffic combinations. Unlike slow-moving pedestrians and cyclists, the combination of rapid acceleration and extreme maneuverability means motorcycles present a particular challenge to an AV or advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

To avoid risk to a human rider, initial development of the interactions between motorcycles and autonomous or ADAS-equipped vehicles has been carried out using controlled soft targets, such as can be carried on AB Dynamics’s LaunchPad, but these are limited in speed capability and how accurately they represent a real motorbike.

The riderless motorcycle has the full performance potential of the original bike, enabling more dynamic interactions to be tested, such as motorcycle overtaking, traffic filtering and lane splitting.

Mechanical integration of the riderless systems was carried out by AutoRD, a technology startup currently developing an autonomous motorcycle software platform. AB Dynamics integrated its onboard robot controller, which runs the company’s standard RC software, allowing programming of the motion of the motorcycle and path-following via GPS positioning, just like a car driven by the company’s robots.

AB Dynamics’s cross-platform Synchro technology allows coordination of the bike with other moving objects, such as cars or ADAS targets, and synchronizes all data generated, enabling later review.

For ease of conversion, the technology demonstrator used a BMW C1 motorcycle that has ABS, no manual clutch and a roof structure, convenient for mounting sensors. Subsequent developments will use a more modern machine with greater performance. AB Dynamics foresees interest from a wide range of customers working in ADAS development and those developing tests for self-driving cars. The current demonstrator has proved that the technology works, and the company is now looking for interested potential customers to help steer further development on the project.

“A riderless motorcycle allows more comprehensive testing of autonomous or ADAS-equipped vehicles, without risking injury to a real rider,” explained Dr Richard Simpson, senior systems engineer at AB Dynamics.

“It also permits greater accuracy, repeatability and consistency between tests than any human rider could achieve. This motorcycle is another excellent tool to complement our other testing equipment for autonomous and ADAS development. Future legislation and vehicle safety testing could require ADAS systems and autonomous vehicles to be validated in increasingly complex scenarios, and the riderless motorcycle is a useful tool for achieving this.

“It could also have applications in motorcycle durability testing by removing the human rider from some of the more arduous tests over rough surfaces, such as pave, where cars already use robot drivers to eliminate driver fatigue.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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