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Tuesday 12 September 2023


Yamaha Pursues Front Wheel Drive and Steering Assist

Both Yamaha and Honda have set self-imposed deadlines to end fatal crashes on their motorcycles by 2050, and as that date starts to loom ever closer, there's a race to create technologies that will help achieve that goal.

For Yamaha, the new AMSAS technical prototype is a huge step forward, incorporating many of the self-riding capabilities of the previous MotoBot R&D tool and the Motoroid concept bike, but wrapping them into a smaller package that can be retrofitted to existing bikes.

In these images, the technology is attached to the chassis of a Yamaha R3, albeit with its engine removed, but the important parts are at the front, in the custom-made front wheel and hidden around the steering head. The front wheel incorporates an electric motor, giving a front-wheel drive setup. Normally, this would be in addition to the conventional engine-driven rear wheel, but on the AMSAS prototype, it powers the bike on its own. At the headstock there's a steering servo that's related to a prototype steering-assist system already in use on Yamaha's works motocross bikes in Japan. Like the pedals of a power-assisted bicycle, it incorporates torque sensors to tell when you're moving the bars, adding assistance where needed. It can distinguish between intentional inputs and those coming from the road surface, and function as power-assistance, as a steering damper or as an automated steering system, depending on what is required at any moment.

Yamaha is doing the work because it recognises that many bike crashes are down to rider error. Eliminating that will go a long way to achieving the zero-deaths goal. The company says 10% of crashes are down to recognition errors, 17% to decision errors and 5% to operation errors. 

Project leader Akitoshi Suzuki said the AMSAS prototype's most distinctive feature is "its approach to use an arrangement highly applicable to existing vehicles since it does not require any modifications to the frame."

"With the base technologies in place now, we're halfway to our goal of bringing AMSAS' value to customers. From here on, we'll be working to downscale the sizes of the various components and so on, as we want to develop it into a platform not just for motorcycles, but one also adaptable to a wide range of other personal mobility applications, like bicycles."

Jun Sakamoto, handling safety strategy at Yamaha, said: "It's to create conditions where the rider can focus more on operating their bike, so that everyone can enjoy that sense of being one with your machine. By providing an assist when the bike is more unstable and requires skill to operate, we want to deliver fun rooted in peace of mind to a wide range of riders."

Video of the bike in action shows it can operate with or without a rider, using its steering and the drive from the front wheel to keep balanced. It can even remain stationary, rocking back and forth slightly to maintain balance. 

In future, a miniaturised version of this system could be added to bikes just as commonly as ABS and traction control are included today.