The robots are gaining on us.
As part of its display at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, on Oct. 28, Yamaha showed off a robot that can drive a motorbike on its own. The robot, which Yamaha is calling Motobot, even challenges Valentino Rossi, the nine-time Grand Prix champion, in the creepiest voice imaginable:
“I am not human, but there has to be something only I am capable of,” Motobot says in the video as it challenges Rossi.
One can only assume that the Japanese motor company gave Motobot a weird childlike voice in this promotional video to imply that the project is still in its infancy. Even though the video shows Motobot working the clutch and the throttle like a pro, whipping down an airstrip outside of San Fransisco, the robot still needs training wheels.
By 2017, Yamaha says it hopes to have Motobot going at full speed (up to 200 kmph or 124 mph) on an unmodified bike on a race track. By then, it also wants to have figured out how to make it a better rider than any human biker. But the grander aim of the project, Yamaha explains on its website, is to help the company develop new safety mechanisms for its bikes by 2020, as well as more autonomous robots.
Yamaha’s robot appears to be connected to its bike, so although it may one day be able to challenge human racers in terms of racing skill, it’s not like the robot can get off and fight crime, or attempt to save your life. At least for now.
The project combines Yamaha’s robotics division—set up in 1976—with its motorbike business. In August, Yamaha set up a separate research division, called Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory in Silicon Valley, which has been working on the robot.
Between Google’s self-driving cars and Yahama’s robo-biker, the Valley is filling up with autonomous traffic. No word yet on who will be the first company to develop a robot that can ride a Segway on its own.