At the Intersection of the Future…

03/02/2012 @ 4:03 pm, by Jensen Beeler25 COMMENTS

Despite the fact that the business side of motorcycling is run by a small close-nit group of curmudgeons, Neanderthals, and Luddites, the world outside of motorcycling continues to press on without us.

And while various parts of the motorcycle industry are busy trying to figure out how to adapt to this whole new “internet” technology fad thing (it has only been commercialized for over two decades now guys), the same group of people are busy trying to maintain the same business models and practices that came from the post-World War II economy.

In other words, when it comes to technology and the motorcycle industry, we are all pretty much fucked.

I know this whole online journalism thing puts me at the far-end of the progressive spectrum in the motorcycle industry, but the reality is when it comes to new technology adoption there is so much going on outside of the four corners of motorcycling’s world, it makes running a website that talks about motorcycles on a daily basis seem so 2011.

Since I like to draw analogies from outside of the motorcycle industry to show my points, take for example Yahoo search. At one point the behemuth-of-the-internet, Yahoo is slowly dying a death of one thousand cuts in its commodity-based business, while competitor Google continues to thrive and grow well beyond its initial critical app of contextual search, and seems forever entrenched in its market position.

Innovate or stagnate, evolve or die, adapt or react…I can keep spitting out buzzword comparisons, but the takeaway comes back to the fact that industries, like companies, need to keep a constant weather eye on the horizon, lest the waters around them begin to storm and swell.

Whether we want to admit it or not, transportation is changing all around us. Smaller cars, EVs, and even automated vehicles are already a reality, and are gaining steam. For example, if you are an astute driver of the roads surrounding San Francisco, you likely have already seen Google’s driverless car prowling the streets in an understated not-so-futuristic manner.

The idea of cars driving themselves is certain to be a scary proposition for many, though before someone leaves a Skynet comment (or worse) at the bottom of this post, consider the fact that we already entrust computers with far more important things in our day-to-day lives.

Since no one reads online publications, you will read in this weekend’s Finance & Business section of the Sunday paper about how millions of dollars were lost in the stock market because of an automated trading system for gold, silver, and bonds was accidentally tripped, causing a massive selling of those index investments.

While the business of multi-billion dollar transactions are fairly complex mathematically, the reality is, driving a car, flying a plane, and even riding a motorcycle are trivial pursuits —  they are so easy in fact, even a human can do them. So, do not be shocked then when I tell you the future of driving is automated vehicles, and their time is nearly upon us.

I submit for your examination a model of the intersection of the future. In a world where cars are in constant contact with each other and ever vigilantly reading the roadways for changes, dangers, and efficiencies, traffic lights will cease to exist…or so say the scientists behind such technologies.

While the model above surely looks like absolute chaos, it is the product of a highly-efficient algorithm that takes into account the destinations of all the cars coming to the intersection, and then times and routes them in the most appropriate manner. For futurists, this looks like a symphony, but for motorcyclists it likely looks terrifying.

The question then is which of the following outcomes scares you more as a motorcyclist: giving up the control of riding your motorcycle through city streets, or riding the only vehicle that isn’t tied into the stream of data from the multi-ton vehicles that surround it.

This is a trick question of course, because what should really scare you is the fact that the organizations that should be actively involved in developing these systems are the same ones that are still busy spending most of their time arguing about whether or not we should be wearing helmets when we ride motorcycles.

I guarantee their are no water-cooler talks at the MIC or AMA about the future of transportation at this level. Like I said before, we are all pretty much fucked.

Source: The Atlantic Cities

  • nitroguy

    Wow! Encouraging way to start the weekend!

    Lest you forget about backroads, Forest Service roads, offroad trails, winding mountain roads, long desert stretches…

    Wouldn’t we all want to ride those anyways? Fine! Take away my ability to travel through an intersection. I’ll find a away around it. Heck, the legislation through all this much will be so great, they’ll be forced to put a “non-computer-controlled” lane bypassing it all. I’ll use that, and get to work faster!

    To all the dooms-dayers, I think you’re forgetting two critical components: the wherewithal of the human mind, and the mire that we call government.

    Eh. I’m not worried.

    Now, where’s that story on FI 2 stroke dirtbikes that I came here for…?

  • AJ

    It’s sales driven. Today’s sales. Although you are correct, this industry in not the only one focused on the now and paying no attention to tomorrow. It’s actually fairly common. I’ve worked at a few companies where, if you aren’t the current most important project, you don’t exist.

  • Qwest

    Sadly, you make a fantastic point. What if motorcycles play no part in this new system at all? If cars become automated, where is there room for people making their own way on bike?

  • sunstroke

    Why would we automate passenger cars? Automating passenger cars is too expensive and it would create more litigation than our system could handle.

    If we automate, automating public transit is better solution. Close entire sections of cities to passenger cars and use buses, street cars, multi-passenger taxis, etc on the roadways. If autonomous public transportation can be made safe, personnel will not be needed at all. The money saved on salary, healthcare, and legacy costs could be invested in more autonomous equipment to improve service intervals. Furthermore, public transit makes it easier to introduce alternative fuels like compressed natural gas, hydrogen, and biofuel.

    The likelihood of integrating 250M light highway vehicles into a single system is not good, mainly b/c it isn’t cost-effective or necessary. We will be free to bomb B-roads until we are no longer on this planet. The areas with highest traffic density will be run by autonomous public transit. The interstates might be next.

  • Jackie

    There will certainly come a point when bikes aren’t on the road, though not for a couple decades me thinks.

    For those that don’t really love engines, driving, riding, etc, the notion of an accident free, stress-less, computer-driven transportation system is supremely attractive…and will become a reality.

    I’m not sure about were you (readers) lives, but here in CA the change in riding has taken a very noticeable change for the worse over the past decade. Highways are treacherous places to be, main roads are packed, and old back-roads/haunts are filling up with traffic at all hours of the week.
    Add to that an increase in police enforcement brought about by our own motorcycling community’s actions and any sense of “escape” or “freedom” is pretty much long gone…or one has to go further afield to find it. So, at a certain point, the fun of road riding will be gone long before we are automated off the roads.

  • Early Adopter

    In the spring of 2001 the FIM held a conference at AMA hq in Ohio. They told us then that motorcycling as-we-know-it would change dramatically in about 15 years with the implementation of intelligent transportation systems. “It will be track days for everyone,” they said. Since then we’ve watched the industry (& AMA) shift emphasis to ATV’s and off-road bikes so it appears the manufacturers agree.

  • MotoRandom

    As much as it would easy to get all work up about this, I think it’s safe to say we are long way from anything like this happening. While the technology exists, the money does not. No one has the financial resources to build a system like this and it’s unlikely anyone will for a very long time. I would cite as an example the United States Air Force’s recent decision to cancel the block 30 Global Hawk pilotless drone and return to the 50 year U2 plane because the U2 is cheaper to operate and can perform the mission better. The F22 is still plagued with issues and because of a major reduction in production has now gotten insanely expensive. The F35 is hitting the news almost everyday now because of all the trouble there.

    If these major technology systems are failing this badly to live up to promiss and be any where near affortable, changing the infastructure of our nations highways is just not gonna happen. At least not until a major shift in our fortunes. What we will likely see in our lifetimes is the fazing out of gasoline powered vehicles. They will still exist but electric, biodiesel, and natural gas are all going to be competing for a slice of the transportation pie. But it’s still far more cost effective to put some simple controls in the vehicle and have a meat puppet at the wheel. We aren’t in danger of becoming extinct just yet but the motorcycles we ride are going to very different in not that many years.

  • WetMan

    Sure, Europeans, that don’t even buy cars with automatic gearboxes but in stead prefer to stick shift like their great-grandfathers, are all going to rush to the shops to buy a car that drives itself…
    And the insurance companies must all be dying for the time that car accidents are a thing of the past. Right?

  • GuitarGuy

    Lemme see…my GPS takes me down a gravel road to an empty field instead of to my house, and my TPMS is always broken. But in spite of that I’m supposed to head into a 12-lane intersection while my car drives itself? If this is the future, I’ll pass.

    Motorcycles are already in danger of becoming distant, inscrutable devices due to too much hands-off technology. We are not riding two-wheeled cars, thank goodness.

    The only proven way to manage congestion is to reduce it. Six bucks a gallon for gas will soon help, and light rail will finish the task. More lanes and more computers are a silly solution.

  • John Lynch

    This is all true, but, a scarier perspective is that everybody is so centred on what is not real, i.e. the world fed to them through portals and blog-o-spheres, people don’t look up and sense the worls around them. How do people have time to react to real situations when they are sooo busy reacting to the electronic world drip fed to them by their ‘iphones’ (other smart phones are available). TRON: fantasy Sci-fi or realistic eventuality?

  • Anvil

    While this notion of “a better future” scares the hell out of me, keep in mind that many, many future visions from the past have not, well, come to pass. According to some, we should have all been in flying cars by now.

    The first problem, as others have pointed out, is that this is all a bit impractical–and expensive. Ignoring the massive investment in infrastructure, how would we retrofit the millions of existing vehicles when the paradigm shift occurs? Seems to me you can’t have an automated system that works unless every vehicle is involved. Hell, just getting on the hybrid bandwagon doesn’t make economic sense for most folks. Now the powers that be are going to mandate that we all have automation-capable vehicles? Doubt it.

    I also question the ability of government to maintain a complex system like this once it scales up to actual size. Imagine the chaos when something breaks, which, most certainly, it will. And imagine the lawsuits when people get killed because something breaks–or some hungover developer made a small mistake updating code.

    Google is largely behind this thing. Ask yourself why. Is it because they want to make a better, safer, more efficient world? Maybe. But some would argue, quite convincingly, that they just want to expand their reach into the one place they can’t get your undivided attention–behind the wheel. What are you going to do when your car drives itself? Probably f*ck around on the mobile web and use Google search…and see Google ads. Every product/service they make ultimately has that as its goal. Ironically, their ad system is the thing that makes almost all of their revenue and they essentially stole it from someone else.

    If we let this happen we’re just not paying attention.

  • wreckah

    if the world continues like it does now, we will all starve from hunger way before this will ever happen, so i’m not worried :-D

    funny the way these scientists see a crossroads…i have never ever seen a crossroads like that in my life. Things are a tad more organic in real life.

  • I think there pretty much has to be a ‘smart road’ of some kind in the future, although it’ll be integrated into existing systems gradually — much the way one lane of a highway might now be hived off for carpools. Those who scoff at the tech feasibility — comments above — are I think missing the real point, which is that here in the US, the motorcycle industry has allowed bikes to be framed as toys or at best recreational vehicles, not transport. So, we’ve positioned ourselves to not even be invited to participate in the discussions that will shape the future of road transport.

  • blue

    I have a copy of a ‘Modern Motor’ magazine from the 1970’s that confidently predicted that by 1982, drivers travelling the almost empty Nullarbor Plain between Adelaide and Perth would be able to do so while sleeping, while their cars took care of the driving.

    To this day there are many people who take on that drive while asleep, but the cars never take over the driving, and things never end well.

    Okay, yes, I’ll agree that we are closer to automated driving/roads today than ever before, and the frightening thing, as someone above already mentioned, is that this will appeal to a lot of people.

    Perhaps the most frightening aspect for we motorcyclists is that just so long as bikes fall down if you don’t hold them up, they won’t be considered as part of the automated scheme.

    That means 3-wheelers (gulp!) or track days only.

    Happily, Australia is at least 25 years behind the rest of the world, so it looks like I’ll enjoy my biking for decades to come…

  • Gritboy

    This “progress” seems more like a devolution.

    I really thought the point of having mass transit was to have something the masses that are either not interested in paying and maintaining a vehicle, or those too stupid or lazy to learn to drive/ride could get around. I mean, buses, trains, ferries work well, and of course there’s the venerable bicycle too.

    Instead of dumbing down vehicles and taking away the ability to self control them ourselves (and jamming up roads with drone cars), why don’t we make licensing MUCH stricter, so people are forced to ride/drive well or be relegated to some other form of transit.

  • Westward

    Without sounds redundant, what Sunstroke said, Yeah…

  • Anvil

    Mark, you do make a good point–that maybe we’re missing the main point of the article. And I agree with the general sentiment that the motorcycle manufacturers have done an exceptionally poor job in keeping two-wheeled vehicles relevant to practical transport and the larger conversation.

    What I think we’re reacting to is the sign of the apocalypse offered here, which frames that conversation. Because some people see this concept as the way forward does not mean it is in reality. And judging from most the reactions I’ve seen from the public, it probably won’t be.

    But point taken; the U.S. motorcycle industry needs to make itself (and us) part of the conversation. It’s just that the conversation won’t just be about automated vehicles and roadways.

  • Keith

    heh, I’ll bet you a nickle it will never be a problem for a motorcyclist. Why? we already do all those things an automated car will do, things no average auto passenger (can’t call them drivers) ever does.

  • As a former commercial driver, I think about this all of the time. You fear SkyNet, and I fear Minority Report.
    “Anvil” has it right… Big Brother has a name, and it is Google.

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  • Grant Madden

    Think I,ll take the train!Already when I go to a major cty(Auckland is the only real big one here in New Zealand)I get my brothers to drive me round cause the traffic is crazy.Whats it like in Hongkong or Rome on a friday afternoon.Much like you presented only crazier.The new way for high density populations is via trains to the centre of town then light clean electric,possibly automated vehicles to move the commuters to thier final destination.Or semi automated cars that stop when something gets in the way,as is already available.And that will leave the dedicated driver/rider to take the same crazy risks that we already take.Me?I,ll just stay out of town.

  • wayne

    I realize I’m probably in the minority on this one, but here goes anyway. If you can’t come up with a suitable alternative for the f-bomb in a written article, you’re not trying hard enough. I understand that it is all too commonplace in today’s society to hear the f-bomb thrown about like beads at Mardi Gras, but I expect more from people who use the written word every day of their lives, presumably to make a profit. To my mind, it is lazy and labels the author one of “those” authors. One who resorts to attention-getting language rather than attention getting content. I expect more from you guys. If I wanted to read the Jersey Shore version of motorcycle reportage, I’d read HFL. I’m done now. Flame on.

  • Jean-Paul

    While I find the concept of driver-less cars interesting from a mathematical point of view, I would agree with many above that the costs of infrastructure and how do deal with older cars puts this idea in the realm of fantasy over reality.

    On another note, I couldn’t help but think that while the designers of the video are trying to streamline intersection flow, they overlook one simple thing: people walking across the street.

  • Alasdair

    I think the growing take-up (certainly in Melbourne) of push bike commuting means that if such a system takes place, there will have to be some provision for a human element in the mix. People will not give up their pushbikes given the fitness benefits and Co2 or lack thereof (apart from the rider themselves), so it would be political madness to take that freedom away, especially when society is trying to quell emissions. So for those cyclists, motorcyclists will be able to ride their own machines as well as automated cars will have to be programmed to avoid two wheelers or otherwise non-automated transport (proximity sensors? maybe based on radar guided cruise control?). As for widespread use of automated cars? Unless Australia has 100% renewable power or cleanish power (and for all our sun and wind, that won’t happen unless we get some nuclear going for base load lest we want to use all our gas) I can’t see replacing current car levels with automated cars as being a popular political option or even something that would not face restrictive legislation, as govermenrts would presumably want people to use public transport more than private (automated) vehicles. Won’t happen, and if it does, I’ll just get a pushie, which will be cheaper and likely more fun than computer-chauferred prius…

  • singletrack

    Computer controlled cars can’t be any worse than the current state of unpredictable, unaware humans.

    I’d be a happy rider if all the cars/trucks were predictable and controlled at constant speeds. Those that want to shut off their brains would be confined to set lanes. Others, who have volunarily taken high performance vehicle control training would be able to enjoy the ride/drive.

    Can you say moving slalom course! ;)