Let’s face it, we knew this day would come. Technology has finally progressed to the point where our beloved past time of riding motorcycles can now be done by a robot. Sarah Connor was right. Skynet is coming. I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.

As tinfoil hat as we can make this story, let’s be honest…it’s pretty cool that Yamaha is developing a humanoid robot that can ride a motorcycle. It’s sorta creepy, but it’s also really cool.

To help lighten the blow, Yamaha is playing off its “Motobot” with a little bit of humor, having the machine taunt factory MotoGP rider Valentino Rossi, and suggesting that one day the robot will beat the ten-time nine-time World Champion at what he does best.

That’s fun and all, and it certainly grabs headlines, but the Yamaha Motobot is a really big deal for a lot more reasons that are less obvious than what has been put forth. Let me explain.

Yamaha Motobot > Honda ASIMO

First up, the Yamaha Motobot is a direct assault on Honda, which has been working on the ASIMO robot for 15 years now. While any engineer in robotics can tell you that ASIMO is light years ahead of Motobot in terms of accomplishing complex tasks, ASIMO has been slow to evolve in relatable ways.

After all, ASIMO just learned how to kick a soccer ball last year – a very difficult task, but one that a child masters rather quickly. There’s also the slight issue of ASIMO’s very public failures – the poor bastard should really just avoid taking the stairs, at all cost.

Yamaha’s Motobot is effectively trumping Honda’s ASIMO by taking on a task that is perceived to be more complex. Motorcycles are fast, Motobot is fast. Walking is slow, ASIMO is slow. Yamaha is good, Honda is bad…you get the idea.

Make no mistake, the release of the Yamaha Motobot at the Tokyo Motor Show is very deliberate. Just as the Suzuka 8-Hour is the place where the race teams of Japanese manufacturers go to beat their chests, the Tokyo Motor Show is where the Japanese engineers go to shine. This is the breeding ground of nerd bragging rights.

Autonomous Vehicles

If the location of Motobot’s debut, at the Tokyo Motor Show, is so important, then we also must give weight to where Yamaha shows us the Motobot testing: Alameda, California – with a view of San Francisco in the background.

The Alameda Naval Air Station, now retired from military duty, serves as a great place to test stuff in an open area. The Mythbusters come out here occasionally, the second installment of the Matrix was filmed here, and it’s also where autonomous vehicles were first given their driving orders.

It’s of note that Yamaha is developing the Motobot in the San Francisco Bay Area. Not only is the company surely tapping into the wealth of engineers who specialize in this sort of project, but also it positions Yamaha to tap into the tech community that abounds in Northern California.

Google and Tesla, two darlings of Silicon Valley, have made no secret about their autonomous vehicle projects, and even Apple is heavily rumored to be working on autonomous vehicles of its own – you may have heard the recent bullshit about Apple causing Mission Motors to fail.

While those companies are focusing on business-to-consumer (B2C) products, there is a huge potential for business-to-business (B2B) applications. Basically, imagine semi-trucks hauling loads non-stop…because they have no driver that gets tired. Trains are about to become obsolete.

For shorter stints, motorcycles and even drones might make sense, making a self-driving motorcycle a potentially lucrative technology to have. Rest assured, one day Motobot won’t have his human-like features, it will simply be the motorcycle.

Rider Dynamics

The autonomous vehicle revolution might be closer than we think, but it is still some years away, as algorithms that predict traffic and judge risks continue to improve, and the ability to control every aspect of a vehicle permeates that market (brake-assist, adaptive cruise control, automated steering, etc).

Before we have a robot that learns how to balance, apex, brake, and wheelie a motorcycle, we are going first to learn a lot about rider dynamics, and that has tremendous value.

Manufacturers like Honda and Yamaha have learned a great deal about how to make a motorcycle achieve its maximum potential. In fact, the rules in MotoGP are specifically designed to less the advances engineers are making in traction and stability control, though race teams have also found some pretty clever ways around these rules.

Watch any rider mid-turn though, and you will see them whack the throttle wide-open with their right hand, leaving the motorcycle’s software to figure out how much throttle to actually give the race bike, in order to maximize traction and thus attain maximum speed.

The one things race teams cannot account for though is the rider. Teams can physically setup their motorcycles so that in theory they should provide the ultimate lap time, only to have the rider return to the pits and say the setup is all wrong.

This is because there is a very human component to riding a motorcycle, a component we know little about.

With all the telemetry available to teams, concrete objective data analyzing and expressing what the motorcycle is physically doing, we still have a very poor understanding of what the riders do on their machines.

This is because riding a motorcycle quickly is a very subjective analysis that only the best minds in the paddock can truly master.

As such, understanding the rider dynamics that go hand-in-hand with riding a motorcycle to its full potential is the next big frontier for MotoGP and other motorcycle racing classes. How does a Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, or Jorge Lorenzo really ride a motorcycle to the limit? We’ll have an answer to that soon, thanks to Motobot.

In time, it’s only logical to believe that engineers will be able to tell riders how they need to ride the bike in order to get the maximum, not the riders telling the team what they need in order to go fast. That should be an interesting day.


Yamaha’s Motobot might not be more than a really expensive and complicated RC toy at this point, but it has big implications for the industry, for motorcycle racing, and for the general public at large.

Yamaha can learn a great deal from this project, and the benefits can extend beyond just making better motorcycles for you and I to ride.

So with that, remember this day: it’s the day that it all started to change. If you don’t believe me, just read the last line of Yamaha’s press release on the Motobot:

“We want to apply the fundamental technology and know-how gained in the process of this challenge to the creation of advanced rider safety and rider-support systems and put them to use in our current businesses, as well as using them to pioneer new lines of business.”

In other news, Terminator is really just about a near-future where Arnold Schwarzenegger gets stuck in a paradoxical loop where he perpetually travels through time…naked.

Source: Yamaha

  • Joe

    It will be a very contentous battle bringing automation onto US highways.. It’ll make taking the keys away from Grandma or Grandpa seem easy…. Drivers in the US love their cars and driving even more than their guns…
    How will the unmanned automated vehicles deal with pranksters bringing them to a halt, cutting them off on the freeways in rush hour traffic?
    Competitors sending out vehicles to slow down competitors’ automated trucking? Thieves highjacking interstate commerce…?
    Pranksters, competitors, or thieves set up on the side of the road with paintball guns to bring the driverless vehicle to a stop…..?

    It will take a lot of new legislation and overcoming huge battles with the public’s “freedom” to bring these online… I am sure it will happen, carpooling vehicles, trucking, and lazy people and the elderly could be first, but I do not think it will happen as fast as the proponents hope…

  • Joe

    The Insurance Industry could price drivers out of the Driver’s seat….
    An unfortunate thought…

  • Roasted Piglet

    Can Motobot call out ASIMO at a press conference? Will the two clash on the track?

  • Roasted Piglet

    Pranksters – is that what DHS employees are called these days?

  • Go-Gurt Fan

    If Motobot’s going up against Rossi, let’s just hope the engineers program it to give Rossi a wide berth.

  • Jason

    Automating driving has the potential to save corporations huge amounts of money. It will happen sooner rather than later.

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    Drivers in the US love their cars? umm, drivers the world over love their cars.
    Anyway, the man will have to take my car keys from my cold, dead hands. …I don’t own any guns. I don’t care if they take all those away.
    Motobot better not “play with” Rossi. He’ll force motobot off the track mid corner, swear at motobot, and kick motobot’s brake lever.

  • john

    “engineers will be able to tell riders how they need to ride the bike in order to get the maximum”
    Didn’t the Ducati-Fiasco prove that it doesn’t work? It is kinda arse-backwards.
    Why not map the rider movements to figure out how they are getting the full potential out of the machines?

  • D3

    I suspect it’s not about figuring out what they are doing now, but more about learning what else they could be doing to ride “better”.

    I always wonder, what would the older race bikes ride like with each successive wave of BP changes. What would the 990’s have been like with the current massive hang off and pick the bike up type style. What would Doohan and Schwantz have been like had they been riding the style taught today, “correctly”. I.E not crossed up on the bike, etc.

    So I therefore wonder what the next change will be, what will change next.

  • keithfinnie

    I am Rossibot of Yorge. Resistance is futile. You will be ASIMOlated.

  • Bryan Burnett

    Pretty cool stuff, I like the idea of flicking a switch and letting the bike go autonomous on freeway stretches, and turning it off when I get to my favorite parts of road. The fact that vehicles will be able talk to each other and avoid collision is huge.

    Still a long long way to go, but how long till we have a Deep Blue moment with a race?

  • john

    re: “what else they could be doing”
    hmm… I guess it’s like chicken or the egg.

    Your “style” now-and-then angle is interesting. I think things like tire and brake tech de-jour could also be variables in the “style” equation. The latest “style” is surely suited for the latest bike but, might not be suited for older bikes. It may be useful to conduct a what’s the best style for each era research.

    As for your what ifs. Aquiring sacrificial machines will prove difficult but, isn’t it possible to mount the latest and greatest riders on older bikes to find it out?

  • I’ll be able to order a pizza and get it a lot quick with this.

  • Joe

    I agree that corporations will as soon as they can, but there will be obstacles… And the other economic question is with the population at 7+ billion, automation is going to continue to remove jobs from the job market, it will take less mechanics to keep the machines operating than people operating machines…
    I know this point has been made a few times throughout history on finite limits of resources but it is finally really showing the results of over consumption by our species, even the ocean’s fish stocks are being depleted…
    Automation is great, will help increase the standard of living but only if the population is reduced… If it keeps going in the current direction, history has shown us examples of large differences in wealth; the French Revolution, and currently the Chinese Govt appeasing the masses in their latest 5 year plan… Even the latest Chinese Dynasty know where they came from and are worried about it happening to themselves….
    See… motorcycles are integrated into our world !!

  • LongTravel

    I don’t think Asimo is worried since Motobot doesn’t have knees and elbows that bend and to this point is nothing more than a engineering school level design project with a heavy hitting hype video. It can’t start from or slow down to a stop and seems only capably of riding in a straight line and actuating the clutch/brake/shifter/throttle or maintaining a steady speed in a very gentle arc…with training wheels. Also am I the only one that thinks it’s kinda funny that they’re using a robot to mechanically actuate a drive by wire system?

  • Jason

    Yes, automating driving will cause a large number of people to lose their jobs. Corporations don’t care about drivers any more than they cared about machine operators. Manufacturing has shed huge numbers of jobs due to automation and companies cheer because workers are a liability not an asset in their balance sheet.

  • Gonfern

    My first thought…Doesnt it make more sense to actuate all of those controls with servos and get rid of the goofy robot? The motorcycle can ride in a straight line just fine on it’s own and the level or articulation needed to nudge the steering to induce lean angle, run the clutch, brakes and shifter is minimal and easily done with actuators and servos. The ability to measure lean angle and control engine output are already on the bike’s stability control system. The robot seems like a stupidly complicated way of doing it. If yamaha wants to do a self-driving bike, I’m sure they can make a 2 wheel autonomous vehicle that doesnt need a robot.

  • Botter

    It’s just Jorge Lorenzo without his synthesized human skin covering to make him appear more ‘normal’ to us humans. I hear V3.0 will have a personality! Honda has also had this technology for years with Pedrosabot

  • Alex

    While in a car, I’ll happily relinquish the wheel to autopilot when sludging through stop-and-go traffic. And if other cars are doing the same it will likely ease congestion by sorting traffic mathematically. THE BONUS: lanesplitting will be legal everywhere and much safer! No more erratic and pointless lane changes by impatient, mentally deficient drivers.

  • Clint Keener

    Does it stick it’s legs out while accelerating through intersections, like every Hayabusa rider ever?

  • AHA

    Agreed. And even if the brief is to build a robot that could ride a (mostly) unmodified bike, it wouldn’t be humanoid in form and you’d have as much mass as possible lower than the seat on either side etc..

  • Jack Meoph

    Making robots look humanoid is just PR. The task that the robot is manufactured to do will dictate the design. I like riding motorcycles, but I hate driving. Autonomous vehicles can’t come soon enough. And with them, congestion will end. All the apparatus that enables a human to operate a vehicle will be gone turning a “car” into personal transport. Have seat, hit a preset, watch a movie (or whatever it is you want to do with your time in the capsule), you’re there. Things might slow down a bit at first, with all the Luddites fighting the inevitable (you know who you are Mr. Anderson), but full automation of the roadways will make life better for everyone.

  • Jason

    If the goal is to automate a motorcycle – Yes.
    If the goal is a PR release that you made a robot that can ride a motorcycle – No.

  • Ayabe

    So who’s up first for pillion?

    Not it!

  • Hence my line that eventually Motobot will be the motorcycle itself. That’s where the automation comes in. With a humanoid robot though, Yamaha stands to learn a great deal about how riders actually ride motorcycles.

  • Keith

    Very interesting!
    At the same time I watch the robotics being developed, I can also imagine an analog equivalent emerging (Mad Max) for all of us who want to still be able to move once the sun or other sends an electromagnetic pulse that cripples all these automatons. Remember the movie Pacific Rim?
    What bothers me is that they screwed up city planning so badly, that all good rail corridors were given away as bike and pedestrian paths–and good luck getting them back. So… the only thing left to do is turn cars and trucks into these automated trains on the remaining road networks. I’d like to see them concentrate more on rebuilding the infrastructure we already have–designing and replacing in a staged way. Design and build new city, then move people in from city A. Nuke A, re-design and rebuild, then move people from city B into revised A etc. I agree with the comment about insurance–soon we won’t have any choice but to be passive plebs. I’m looking forward to the revolution that comes after that already.

  • Peter

    Next racing series – robot vs. human. Oh wait, maybe we already have that with Lorenzo vs Rossi.

  • Alclab Ventek

    Spot on! I would feel the same way and if anything might encourage more riding than driving

  • Roasted Piglet

    “Automation is great, will help increase the standard of living but only if the population is reduced…”

    Google “Georgia Guidestones”.

  • Roasted Piglet

    Dangling legs are a normal drag racing technique that helps to stabilize the bike.

  • fzrider

    I pity the fool born in the future who can “ride” his motorcycle better than me within just a few minutes of being taught how to “hang-on”….(over heard at the Dragon Store some future Sunday)…”Wow, my motorcycle just took me through the gravity cavity section so fast the foot pegs touched on both sides! It’s never allowed me to do that before…”!

  • Wayne Thomas

    And like today, insurance-less drivers will still get on the road and drive. A piece of paper won’t stop people any more than a sign or lack of a piece of paper.