On the brink of a bike safety revolution with more crash-prevention tech

Ben Purvis_BikeSocial
By Ben Purvis

Writing about bikes for 20 years. Published in dozens of titles on five continents. Mildly obsessed with discovering how things work.

Just a month ago Ducati revealed that it’s on the verge of launching a bike with front and rear radars. Then KTM showed us its take on the idea. And now it’s clear that the common factor behind them is German tech giant, Bosch.

Why does that matter? Because it’s been Bosch’s tactic of providing off-the-shelf technology to any manufacturer that wants it which has led to the proliferation of ABS, cornering ABS, traction control systems, wheelie mitigation, and inertial measurement unit-based stability control over the last few years.

While bike manufacturers like to dress up the safety systems with their own array of names and acronyms, Bosch’s ABS and MSC (motorcycle stability control) traction control set-ups provide the backbone of most of them.

Whether it’s Kawasaki, KTM, Ducati, BMW, Suzuki, Yamaha or any one of a host of other companies, you’ll find Bosch providing key safety tech. Even Honda, which for years insisted on developing in-house electronics, has turned to Bosch for the ABS and IMU-assisted traction control on its latest Fireblade models.

Now Bosch has made its own announcement: it’s launching a set of radar-based rider assistance systems including adaptive cruise control, which will automatically keep pace with the vehicle in front, collision warning systems and blind-spot monitoring. That’s precisely the same as KTM and Ducati are promising to add to their ranges in the near future, and with Bosch being the common theme it’s certain that other firms will be doing exactly the same.

 

Ducati says it will have a production bike in its range with the systems by the 2020 model year. KTM just says its system won’t be on production bikes next year – so it’s probably aiming at 2020 as well.

Other early-adopters of Bosch technology usually include Kawasaki, BMW and Yamaha, so we’d be surprised if those firms don’t also have bikes fitted with these radar-based systems within a couple of years.

But the radar kit is just one weapon in Bosch’s upcoming armoury of anti-crash tech.

Another long-running project has been to develop a motorcycle-to-car communication system. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to scream ‘You bloody idiot!” directly into the cabin of the dozy driver who’s just nearly run into you, but instead your bike will talk straight to his car – and it will do it before he gets a chance to put you at risk.

In Bosch’s own words: “Bosch is creating a digital shield for motorcyclists. Up to ten times a second, vehicles within a radius of several hundred meters exchange information about vehicle type, speed, position, and direction of travel. Long before a motorcycle comes into view, this technology warns drivers and the sensors in their vehicles that a motorcycle is approaching. This allows them to drive better and more defensively.”

The system will take time to be adopted; unlike ABS, traction control or the radar warning tech, it requires the car as well as the bike to be fitted with the equipment. While the technology itself has been under development for years and works on the same well-understood principles that are already used for WiFi, it can’t promise quite the same instant benefits. Perhaps it’s this lack of marketability that’s delaying its widespread introduction.

Bosch’s latest idea is more straightforward and could promise the same instant benefits that ABS and traction control offer – although it’s a little more dramatic. Currently still in the ‘research project’ stage it’s a sliding mitigation system that promises to give bikes the ability to recover front-end slides that currently only the likes of Marc Marquez can hope to get away with.

Demonstrated in a somewhat startling video, it relies on the existing sensor technology including Bosch’s inertial measurement unit to calculate when the front end is sliding out from under you. Whether on spilt diesel, gravel or some other slippery surface, it’s a moment that’s usually followed by that gut-wrenching crunch of metal and plastic against Tarmac. But perhaps not for much longer.

The Bosch prototype system spots the slide and, incredibly, acts to control it by using a blast of high-pressure gas, directed from a nozzle under the bike that’s pointed against the direction of the slide to force the front wheel to stay on course even when it’s got no grip. Yes, Bosch is basically fitting bikes with retro-rockets.

Although the firm hasn’t given away too many details, it says the system is based on the same technology as car airbags. That suggests that rather than being stored in a bulky, heavy tank, the gas is generated by a small explosion. It also suggests that once it’s saved your skin – and your bike – once, it will need to be replaced or replenished somehow. But that’s a small price to pay if it’s genuinely stopped you from crashing.

While the radar systems including adaptive cruise control are basically production-ready now, the front-end slide mitigation set-up is still much further from production. But looking at how fast ABS and traction control tech has spread we shouldn’t be surprised if, once it reaches a production-ready state, the sci-fi-style booster becomes another familiar tool to help keep us rubber-side-down.

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