BMW's Advanced Safety Concept: moving towards a safer motorcycle
By Loz Blain
July 5, 2011
A safer motorcycle. To some people, the concept completely misses the point. If it was safe, it would be boring, and we'd go find something else to do. Still, safety technology is a very high priority for many manufacturers, and arguably it's BMW that's leading the way in rider assist electronics. So it's interesting to take a glimpse at the Advanced Safety Concept (ASC). Similar to the fascinating Experimental Safety Vehicle that Mercedes-Benz showed us in 2009, the ASC gives us a glimpse at the next-generation technologies BMW is dreaming up to help keep riders from becoming "road crayons," as a friend of mine so eloquently puts it.
It's been said many times that if motorcycles were invented today, there's no way the governments of the world would let them on the road. Ferociously powerful, feather light, virtually no protection for the fleshy sacks we carry ourselves around in, and available to Joe Public with barely any more training barriers than a family car. So it's unsurprising that certain manufacturers are moving to try to take some of the risk out of this sector using clever technology.
BMW is arguably at the leading edge here. When the 2011 S1000RR superbike was released, it was the first of a new breed of bikes that are starting to crop up with performance and safety focused systems like ABS, traction control and electronically adjustable suspension tightly integrated. We have also recently seen the BMW vision for active motorcycle suspension that reads the conditions and sets the suspension on the go, to maximize traction and minimize things like forward pitch under brakes - and the groundbreaking adaptive headlight system used on the new K1600GT, a headlight that looks around corners as you lean the bike over.
But the Advanced Safety Concept shows us a number of purely safety-focused ideas that may or may not roll through into production machines in the near future. The concept is based on the K1600GT sports-tourer.
Daytime Riding Light Rings
These essentially look like angel eyes for the bike, but provide extra visibility in daytime conditions. If you believe that the hardwired lights-on laws in countries like Australia make a difference to motorcycle visibility, then these riding lights will presumably multiply that effect. I'd question it, though, and I'll tell you why: I know a guy that gets around on a fluorescent orange VFR. It's hideous and gaudy and possibly the most visible bike I have ever seen, and drivers still regularly pull out on him to the point that he calls the paint job "stealth orange."
To me, it has always seemed suicidal to assume that drivers have seen you, and with the range of dash gadgets, smartphones and audio experiences designed to steal drivers' attention away, I simply doubt things like this can make much of a difference. Still, they look cool, and if they're not too expensive, I don't see why not.
BMW Motorrad eCall - automatic collision notification
This idea has a lot of merit to it; the bike is fitted with communications gear so that if it's involved in a crash, or manually triggered by the rider, the system "phones home" to BMW and registers an emergency event with the BMW call center. That means that if you run off a road into the bushes and injure yourself, but you're not visible from the road, your GPS location and details from the bike's ECU about the accident can be immediately made known to somebody at BMW.
The procedure from here is that the call center would first try to contact the phone number registered with the bike, and if no response was given, to call an ambulance straight away and get assistance to the downed rider as fast as possible - minutes can definitely count in the time between motorcycle crash and qualified medical attention. Nobody wants to be that guy that's stuck in the bushes for three hours before anyone even notices he's come off.
Of course, the downside to this is potential privacy concerns that would have to be well and truly addressed before I'd want this sort of system on my bike. Where I go and what speed I choose to go at are things I very much like to keep to myself, especially where the law and the people responsible for addressing my warranty claims are concerned.
Camera-based rider information and assistance systemAn inbuilt camera on the Advanced Safety Concept bike scans the road ahead, looking for information to relay to the rider.
One thing it's looking for is speed limit signs, which are recognized, then displayed on the dash panel. This is a handy touch - the system can also presumably be configured to let you know if you're currently exceeding the last speed limit you passed.
There's also a kind of collision and hazard detection system - the camera can detect various obstacles and warn the rider, presumably through flashy lights on the dashboard. More ominously, the system can "prepare the brake system for imminent intervention." I'm not sure whether this is signalling that the computer will apply the brakes itself, but if that's the case I certainly don't want it. Timely last-second swerves can save the day in a lot of imminent collision situations, and the last thing I want is an unbidden front brake grab in the middle of that sort of manoeuvre.
BMW Motorrad ConnectedRide with intelligent assistance systemsHere's where things start looking a little pie-in-the-sky. The Advanced Safety Concept is thought of as a node in a dynamic network of vehicles, which can communicate with other vehicles and stationary nodes built into things like traffic lights.
ConnectedRide communicates with other vehicles in the following ways:
The cross traffic assistant feature monitors any cars that are approaching from side roads that should be giving way to you. If they don't look like they're going to do that, a warning is sent to the car, and the motorcycle lights up with a few big flashing LED strips across the front to call extra attention to the bike.
The traffic light phase assistant communicates with the traffic light management systems along the road, and it lets the driver know if he's headed for a red light, so as to stop wasting fuel accelerating towards a stop. It also tells the rider what speed to maintain if he wants to get through the intersection on a green light.
The bad weather warning takes readings of external temperature, traction control activations, and things like fog lamp activation, and relays it to other vehicles in the network. This lets the other vehicles know they're heading into foggy, rainy, snowy or icy conditions.
The obstacle warning system is specifically designed to scan for surface issues like oil or gravel on the road, broken down cars and the like - and warn the rider. This information is also transmitted to other vehicles to give advance warnings.
The emergency vehicle warning system is hooked in to police, fire and ambulance vehicle systems so that it can warn of an approaching emergency vehicle.
The electronic brake light system is very clever - it transmits data on sudden heavy braking to other vehicles that are driving behind you. So if a car three cars in front of you hits the brakes hard, and it's plugged into the network, you get a warning on your dash before you even see the brake lights, letting you put plenty of space between yourself and the cars in front of you. This one could clearly save a few rear-enders in heavy traffic - at least, it could if the rider was paying attention to the five million things his ultra-safe motorcycle was warning him about all day long.
The left turn assistant looks for traffic that's about to blindly turn across the road in front of an oncoming bike. It warns the driver if they're in a networked car, and triggers a flashing light show to increase the bike's visibility while warning the rider to take it easy.
The overtaking assistant detects when you're trying to overtake a vehicle in front of you, and triggers additional flashing lights to supplement your indicators. This is done to help prevent situations where a bike pulls out to overtake a row of cars, and another driver wants to overtake as well, and pulls out into the lane the rider is overtaking in. It's not a bad idea, but again I'd question the effectiveness of visual warnings given to drivers who are clearly vision impaired.
ConnectedRide aside, most of the concepts shown on the BMW Advanced Safety Concept bike seem fairly realistic in their scope and ambition. It'll be interesting to see which ones make it through to upcoming Beemer models in the next few years.