Riding Motorcycles Among the Robots - You're going to need a transponder

Automated trucks in constant communication with vehicles all around

Automated trucks with cameras and radar and in constant communication with vehicles all around

A little while back we had a pretty lively discussion about robots on our roads, but, even with the rapidly approaching technology, you still have a little time before the mass adoption of robotic vehicles makes every trip a chance to catch up on your sleep, but, near term, there may be some intermediate steps in the process and I think transponders will be among them. Just like the "motor vehicles only" signs of today, I can easily imagine "transponder equipped motor vehicles only" signs in the future.

Constant communication or get off the road

One of the keys to smooth operation with automated vehicles is knowing where all of the other vehicles are and what they're doing. Sensors and cameras can discover a lot, but it's even better if all of the vehicles are actively transmitting data. Airplanes do this now with flight transponders and the highway of the future may require the same of motor vehicles and it makes sense. When vehicles are merging on to the highway, leaving the highway, passing, braking and changing lanes all under computer control and trucks and other vehicles are hooked up in electronic "road trains," the thought of blasting through that digital parade on your human controlled and non transponder equipped Electra Glide may no longer be an option.

In the future, the computers are in charge of the driving

In the future, the computers are in charge of the driving

While reading through a Daimler press release about their "Highway Pilot" tech in the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, I saw this:

The "Highway Pilot" is ideally partnered with V2V and V2I networking. Every vehicle equipped with this in the near future will transmit continuous information to its surroundings, the CAM (Corporate Awareness Message). The vehicle uses this to announce its presence. The information content includes vehicle position and model, dimensions, direction of travel and speed, any acceleration and braking manoeuvres and the bend radii negotiated.

The reference to V2V is vehicle to vehicle and V2I is vehicle to infrastructure communication. Although each manufacturer developing these technologies is likely doing it in their own way right now, I can envision a standard coming when the "Corporate Awareness Message" (Who comes up with Orwellian names like that?) will be in the same format for every vehicle and it will become possible to retrofit older vehicles with a transponder able to blend you into the traffic flow. If you want to ride the highway, it could easily become mandatory.

While part of me really loves all of this stuff, and fully autonomous vehicles are pretty cool, another part of me is going to miss the rebellious and totally free, self directed driving of today if it ever becomes a relic. Not long ago I thought a future like that was far enough away there would be no reason to worry, now I'm not so sure. Are you ready?

Link: Daimler
Image credits: Daimler


  1. Mikey says

    I think there can be an intermediate step where we have transponder equipped, human controlled vehicles. It could possibly even be a smartphone app, since most phones already have WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS capability.

    We already have riders with their phones attached to their bars being used for GPS navigation and apps for dyno/performance purposes. In my mind, it’s not much of a stretch at all.

    • GenWaylaid says

      I agree that phones are the most likely place to start. That would make it much easier to spot pedestrians, too.

      At highway speeds, it’s may be necessary to boost the phone’s signal to get a sufficient range. Either way, having your phone constantly announce its presence is going to run down the batteries rather quickly.

  2. WOL says

    I know that many readers will lament the loss of control but the fact is the we have already given up control.

    I will drive from Brisbane to Sydney in Australia this weekend. 1000kms – 50% on dual carriage way. Australia does not have as much dual lane highway as Europe or the USA due to the cost of infrastructure per head of population. Australia is about the same size as the mainland USA but only 22 million people.

    On this trip, I will encounter the subtle dance of all the vehicles using cruise control. Most are set at a speed of a few kms per hour over the speed limit. Even with dual carriageway, the traffic moves at a constant pass with minimal overtaking. The trucks, cars and bikes all observing the speed limit as it is policed very heavily.

    This makes driving a matter of keeping the vehicle in the lane and not falling asleep.
    This kind of technology will support what is already happening on major traffic routes. If we can keep control on the back roads, I am would encourage anything that keeps me awake.

    Rest, revive, surviveā€¦.. should not be the slogan plastered all over the highways. Hopefully it will not be in the near future.

  3. MXG says

    On the marine side we are using AIS transponders operating over the VHF radio band. The system sends position, heading, speed and vessel information to other AIS equipped vessels. Information is displayed on radar and chartplotting screens and is very useful for avoiding collision. (see http://www.marinetraffic.com for a look at worldwide shipping activity). I see no problem adapting these technologies for road use, although the information being recieved on a 8 lane expressway at 5PM would be truly impressive. That tech part aside however and we are left with the end of ‘freedom of the road’. ‘Big Brother’ will also be monitoring all this road activity in a way in which he never has before and you will be recieving a ticket in the mail for your lack of compliance if you should dare break a rule here & there. progress eh?

  4. eddi says

    My first question is to what extent do the planners of this technological wonder intend to go off the freeway or it’s equivalent? The city cores are also most likely to become no-go zones for any private vehicle in their idealized future. As far as I’m concerned, that leaves all the good roads free to ride or drive without an autopilot. And the no-roads access will never go away, because these people just don’t see it. As they just don’t see motorcycles in their brave new world.

  5. JustinM says

    I can’t help but think that someday, I’ll be telling my grandchildren about how I used to drive a car and ride a motorcycle….and controlled them myself. And they’ll look at me all starry-eyed like kids now do when you tell them about life before the internet and cell phones.

  6. says

    “The combination of engine management system and wireless communications also gives governments a way to enforce speed limits that no-one can escape. Mr Illsley said all the technology to do this is available now. For instance, the Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Leeds is currently in the middle of a six-year project to evaluate an intelligent speed adaptation system that keep cars to a prescribed speed limit.” – BBC News 31 January 2005

    Enjoy the riding and driving freedom we have right now, they will be taking it away withing 20 years for the good of all.

    • Bob says

      If all the vehicles are in constant communication with each other, much higher speeds could be safely attained. Of course the joy of hammering down the highway on the wrong side of the speed limit, and being in control of your personal missile, is gone.

  7. Yeti2bikes says

    In some futuristic society where poverty has been abolished and everyone can afford a shiny new automated car…

    Will there be manual overrides for when the controller gets a glitch or a sensor gets covered with road debris while you’re careening down the Grapevine?

  8. Big Doc says

    I’m all for any technology that gets the slow pokes out of the left lane on the interstate. Catch me if you can Big Brother!

    • FREEMAN says

      In a world where every single automated car on the road is a snitch, enjoy trying to get away with anything.

      • Hardy says

        I totally agree with Dwains comment. When you start getting tickets because you were turned in by your own car because the automation went haywire you people that were all for this automation will be kicking your own butts for welcoming it with open arms. Once you give up your freedoms to the authorities you’ll never get them back and it’ll only get worse from there. Where does it end? Mind control!

  9. says

    I agree with “Yeti2bikes”. What happens if that communication technology between vehicles fails (e.g. through a magnetic field or similar). Then there is a traffic chaos around the globe that we can never imagine.

  10. Mike says

    So, this is what planned obsolesence is all about? To get rid of all the non-automated vehicles so we can have room for all this commerce(that only a handful will enjoy and fewer can afford)? Does anyone remember those Toyotas that were running at full speed because they were drive-by-wire not cable? Watch what happens dumbies when you trust a Rhodes Scholar Engineer… In the meantime, I’m going to twist my wrist and ride my carb powered hog. Ride Dawg! RIDE!!!

  11. Hawk says

    Look no further than the airline industry today. Long gone are the days when pilots actually fly the aircraft. In fact, I’ve heard it said that when one of the guys decides to fly and takes it off auto-pilot, it scares the be-jeezus out of the other guy.

    In truth, the B-777 is so sophisticated that you really have to work at it in order to crash it. Asiana managed it at SFO and one day we’ll find out the truth about MH370.

    In the meanwhile, development of self-drive vehicles is here to stay. But what about the revenue loss from speeders, drinkers and distreacted drivers? 90% of the police forces will have nothing to do. Body shops and new car dealers will be sucking wind too! Hospital trauma centers will have to wait for you to fall off a ladder.

    But the true tragedy will be those of us who enjoy driving ….. like the pilot who enjoys flying but is now told not to.

    I’m glad I’m old.

    • FREEMAN says

      Comparing commercial pilots to your average “licensed” road driver is really apples and oranges. It’s laughable at best. Pilots are not aircraft babysitters. They are much more involved than you make it sound and, unlike your average car driver, have to undergo flight certification, type certification, and medical certification constantly. Furthermore, not all aircraft have autopilot (or transponders, radios, lights, etc) or are easy to fly. Long gone are the days of pilots flying aircraft? Couldn’t be further from the truth. Even drones are flown by pilots.

      • JustinM says

        Very good point. Remember the guy who landed the plane in the river in NYC? Autopilot won’t do that.

        • Hawk says

          Freeman, the airline industry is ahead of most of us in automation. My comments come from 35 years in the business (non-flying) and knowing a fair number of now retired pilots. And more than a few very memorable conversations …. one being with Bob Pearson.

          Perhaps the comparison between drivers and pilots was a stretch but the point was the encroachment of automation and how it has destroyed the “fun” aspect of controlling a machine, be that an airplane, car or motorcycle. Imagine, if you will, a MotoGP race run by robot riders … Ho Hum, eh?

          At an “advanced age” I still occasionally drive my buddy’s semi. I enjoy it, even thought his new unit has an auto-shifter, I would still like the challenge of the 18-speed. But then, you don’t find many people driving heavy trucks (or riding motorcycles) who regard driving as a “necessary chore” to get someplace. Indeed, my weekend rides are not to a “destination” because that is just the point at which you turn around.

          As said, I’m glad I’m old because I’m still able to enjoy “driving” or “riding” despite all these efforts to make it totally boring.

        • Nicolas says

          Actually the plane landed “safely” in the Hudson river in great part because of the computer-managed controls who’re designed to prevent the plane from stalling, giving the pilot the ability to focus on where he wants to lay the plane down …

  12. Doug West says

    There is nothing said about transponder equipped vehicles not also sending messages regarding non-communicative obstacles they encounter. An auto-vehicle could transmit a message to be received by all other local auto-vehicles and infrastructure regarding ‘silent’ vehicles, road debris, road conditions, bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, what-have-you. As this becomes prevalent, we will probably see controlled intersections done away with since the ‘flow’ of traffic is known. Pedestrians could safely cross a major highway and the auto-vehicles would just avoid the pedestrian as messages from auto-vehicles ahead are received by those behind. The pedestrian would only have to watch out for non-auto-vehicles … or maybe the auto-vehicles will be smart enough to navigate other ‘silent’ vehicles around the pedestrian just due to adjusting their lane positioning and speed. AutoBots Assemble!

  13. Random says

    So… are we going to add transponders to pedestrians, bycicles, children, dogs, cats…? This vision of traffic is really opposed to the recent views of road use in european cities, reducing barriers between cars, bikes and people on foot to make everyone go slower and pay more attention.

    • Doug West says

      At a certain point, the density of traffic with transponders will make it unnecessary to place transponders on the remaining items. The infrastructure sensors in addition to the sensors on vehicles will be dense enough to cover the items without transponders. So no, we won’t have to place transponders on the pedestrians, bicycles, children, dogs, nor cats. Although pedestrians and bicyclists in essence already have transponders in the form of their smart devices – all they need is the appropriate app or connectivity to the commuter grid.

      • Hardy says

        You can never sell me on something that could inevitably cause me to lose my privilege of riding my beautiful motorcycle Doug. Maybe you prefer to be under an electronic yoke of enslavement but I don’t.

        • Doug West says

          I never said anyone would lose any privilege of riding their beautiful motorcycle. But what if most of the other traffic on the road just magically parted for you because their virtual commute network informed each other of your presence and made way for you? Wouldn’t that be cool?: Your motorcycle wouldn’t have to have a transponder, or could have a transponder but only to send messages, and not to control the bike, or only take control of the bike when a collision was imminent. Or, perhaps like current electronic suspension and ABS packages, the settings could be dialed in to allow full automation all the way to full manual.

          • JustinM says

            My DT175 doesn’t have enough excess electrical power to charge its own battery right now if it’s below 4K RPM, let alone run a transponder. Are they going to outlaw all older motorcycles and cars? Are they going to line the streets of my neighborhood with infrastructure so they don’t have to worry about a car not seeing a 10 year old on a bicycle who just doesn’t happen to be carrying a smartphone with them?

            All this stuff is pie in the sky type thinking, but the practical implementation of it is so very far beyond what we’re capable of right now it’s absurd to even discuss. While the technology does in fact exist to make it happen, the US wouldn’t have enough cash to implement this if they saved every single penny of tax dollars for the next ten years, let alone any of the other countries where the same automakers (and motorcycle manufacturers) sell their wares.

            • Sportster Mike says

              Yes, they WILL ban old cars and bikes – has happened in France already I believe where if you have an old car (1920s say) you need a special permit to drive it on the road….
              Can any French people tell me if that’s true???

  14. Hooligan says

    Does a robot drive drunk or stoned or while texting or on the phone? Does a robot read a newspaper while driving, does a robot put it’s makeup on while driving or eat a pizza and have a coffee at the same time. Does a robot not bother to look when it comes to a junction or before doing a U turn – (ahh it would be programmed not to do that). Or indicate left and turn right/vice versa. Does a robot sit in the fast lane just under the speed limit with a queue of cars waiting to get past. Does a robot have no idea what is happening all round it on the road and have a total lack of spacial awareness? Hmm I’m actually wondering if there is some sense in this robot driving business. Given the appalling standard of driving on the roads these days.

  15. Butch says

    Jeremy Clarkson brought up two of the best arguments against self drive cars that I’ve seen and neither of them have been adequately addressed: 1) would you get in a car and go somewhere on regular roads without someone driving? Didn’t think so. and 2) at some point this miracle of technology self-drive car will be bought by a man named Keith and Keith will think that he knows better than his mechanic and try to repair/service the vehicle himself and…well, I think you see where this is going.

    • GenWaylaid says

      All the first question does is drive home just how old and curmudgeonly Jeremy Clarkson is.

      As for the second: Keith will brick his car in under five seconds–IF he manages not to strip the special anti-tamper screws sealing everything. It should go without saying that if you don’t get to drive the car, you don’t get to maintain the car, either. The silver lining is that you don’t have to own the car, just hail one whenever you need it like a taxi. That’s probably the only way Keith could afford one, anyway.

  16. says

    Paul writes, “If you want to ride the highway, it could easily become mandatory.”

    Even for motorcycles? That’s a lot of sophistication.

    The fun roads are gonna get crowded. Gear heads are not the only people who enjoy driving.

    On the other hand, what is with the increase of teens not getting their license until 18+ yrs? That is a sign of future generations embracing this technology all because our generations are not demanding better driving requirements and better driving enforcement.

    • Paul Crowe says

      “that’s a lot of sophistication” … for a transponder? If a motorcycle has a device that transmits location, speed and direction and some ID that says it’s a motorcycle, that seems pretty easy. As Mikey said way above, that’s pretty much smartphone territory. The benefit is easy to see, too. Suppose you’re several vehicles behind another with semi trailers in between, the vehicle up ahead would not see you on radar, but your transponder would alert it to your presence.

      Teens not getting licenses is an interesting sign of the times. Some will say it’s a money issue, which may play a part, but it’s also a lack of desire to pilot a vehicle. To those teens, robo-cars are attractive especially around larger cities. I expect the trend to continue.

      • says

        With the pace at which automotive OEMs are looking into autonomous driving, the technical capabilities will definitely be there soon. But I think they have to be proven consistently reliable before any regulatory bodies start requiring them. After all, automobiles surged in popularity in the late 40’s but it wasn’t until 1984 that the first state seat-belt law was passed…

        I think that technology should be used to improve the riding/driving experience, but it doesn’t have to take complete control. I’m actually working on a tire pressure / temperature / alignment sensor for bikes so riders can be safer but still make their own decisions :)

      • says

        Oh, I was looking at the completeauto pilot of motorcycles (balance, turning via leaning,etc), not just transmitting the placement/position and speed.

        The teen comment was more about how dangerous they see bad drivers can be more than the money issue.

        Interesting topic.

        • Paul Crowe says

          Except as an experiment to prove that it can be done, I don’t anticipate robo-motorcycles any time in the future, there isn’t any need for them. The Ghost RIder attempt in one of the DARPA competitions showed it’s possible, but beyond that, I don’t see it happening. Riding among a lot of robotic cars and trucks, on the other hand, is pretty much guaranteed.

  17. WillyP says

    There was recently an article about a Chinese firm hacking a Tesla and taking remote control… what happens when an 18-wheeler flying down the highway at 90 is hacked?

    • Paul Crowe says

      Unauthorized remote access is a danger with any remotely accessible device. What happens with all of the growing number of devices on the “Internet of things” like home thermostats and smoke alarms and smart meters and who knows what else? They bleed information and may be susceptible to remote resets of some sort. It’s a risk we’ll live with to greater or lesser degree depending on our desire to take advantage of the device in question.

      As I noted above, those of us who choose not to participate in vehicle intercommunication will probably, eventually, be restricted in our choice of roads. Will there be some nasty hacking incidents? My guess would be yes. Not saying I like it, just saying I expect it.

      • doug west says

        Internet aware home 3D printers are the real nuisance when hackers remotely access them to print porn spam directly into your living room.

      • John Fisher says

        Paul, your comments RE MC transponders are sensible, but here’s an argument against all forms of universal vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

        What’s it going to be used for? Well they say they’ll announce their speed and direction and location etc to the other cars around them. Warnings, traffic alerts, radio-based traffic signs can all be included. Police can disable your car and on and on. Security barriers could disable all cars but police.

        Very well then, I am going to hack my car to say I am an 18 wheeler at 75 mph out of control, get the hell out of my way. How is your car going to know whether thats a good message or a bad message? It can’t, and since dangerous robots must always default to maximum safety, your car will pull over to let me through. Now what if I am evil and I send out the disable or emergency stop signal? What if I send out multiple signals that cause gridlock and possibly accidents?

        The people like Ford the IVth or Vth who think they see a top-down centralized future are not computer network experts, they are rust-belt geezers who do not understand a decentralized model.

        Further, the fleet will never turn over 100% to inter-connected robots, there will always be pedestrians, animals, bicycles, debris, vintage cars, construction and ag equipment and so forth.

        But I just watched a Google video showing their autonomous car reacting to a bicyclists’ hand signal, and they are giving up on giving the driver any control at all. So the road trains and robot cars are coming much sooner than many of us thought. But I don’t think they will be universally inter-connected.

        But I do think a lot fewer riders will get killed by cars… I hope.

  18. Mean Monkey says

    After spending a week driving in NYC and New Jersey, I think I’m ready to see robotic drivers. Maybe they can program the robot to use turn signals before they cut in front of you. Better yet, teach the robot not to gawk at a minor fender-bender on the berm so that the traffic won’t backed up for miles.