Harley-Davidson Developing Group-Riding Adaptive Cruise Control

Sophisticated bike-specific adaptive cruise control coming to future models.

Harley-Davidson patent drawing
Harley-Davidson patent drawings show a radar-based adaptive cruise control system for group-riding scenarios.US Patent Office

We've already seen that radar-based adaptive cruise control systems are going to be one of the next big technological battlegrounds in motorcycling. Now a new patent application from Harley-Davidson shows the US firm is taking a particularly sophisticated approach to the idea.

KTM and Ducati have both already confirmed that production bikes with radar-based adaptive cruise control will be in their ranges within the next few months. KTM's next-generation Super Adventure will debut its version of the system, using Bosch radar components derived from existing automotive adaptive cruise control. Ducati will introduce a similar setup on at least one version of the Multistrada in 2020.

However, the system that Harley-Davidson is developing appears—from the firm’s patent applications—to be rather more advanced than most, with the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles. That means it’s designed specifically with the aim of assisting group riding.

Harley-Davidson patent filing
No manufacturer to this point has attempted to develop an adaptive cruise control meant for assisting in a group ride; Harley-Davidson patent filings show a system that is much more complex than the Bosch and Ducati systems that could be arriving on the market soon.US Patent Office

Harley’s first patent applications for its system emerged more than a year ago, explaining the basics of the adaptive cruise control and showing that it will be able to operate the bike’s brakes as well as the throttle to maintain a constant distance from the vehicle it’s following. But the latest patent application, published this August, fleshes out the plans with explanations of how it’s been designed to differ from existing car-based adaptive cruise control systems. In particular, the documents suggest the system will use cameras to identify individual motorcycles and explain how it is programmed to follow another bike even when riding in a staggered formation.

“The system includes an electronic controller configured to determine the presence of a vehicle on one side of a direct path of travel of the motorcycle based on data received from a transceiver…” the patent explains. “The electronic controller locks the motorcycle with the vehicle and dynamically controls the speed of the motorcycle based on an output of a kinematic controller.…”

That controller uses the sensors—Harley mentions radar, camera, and LIDAR sensors as possibilities—to take into account “distance of the motorcycle to the vehicle, velocity of the vehicle, velocity of the motorcycle, a cruise set speed associated with the motorcycle, a desired separation distance between the motorcycle and the vehicle, and a desired separation time between the motorcycle and the vehicle.”

The patent application also explains that a conventional adaptive cruise control (ACC) system won’t work well on motorcycles riding in groups, saying, “When motorcycles ride in a staggered formation, an automotive ACC system may not properly set the target vehicle. For example, in a staggered or off-center formation, an automotive ACC system may set the target vehicle to a directly preceding vehicle, which may not be the nearest vehicle to the motorcycle. Also, in a staggered or off-center formation, an automotive ACC system may not be able to determine that a vehicle detected in front of a motorcycle is in the same lane or an adjacent lane of travel, which impacts whether the detected vehicle should be set as the target vehicle. For these and other reasons, automotive ACC systems are ill-equipped to handle driving distinctions between automobiles and motorcycles.”

adaptive group cruise control
Harley-Davidson’s patent for adaptive group cruise control shows the ability to change the modes for following as the lead motorcycle passes a vehicle.US Patent Office

The ability to latch onto another motorcycle, riding in a staggered formation, throws up its own problems. If the bike ahead opts to overtake a car, for instance, and moves into the oncoming lane to do so, the adaptive cruise control needs to identify that situation and adjust speed to match the car that’s being overtaken rather than trying to keep up with the other bike.

Harley’s system
Harley’s system shows the ability to latch onto the bike ahead and identify if it is an automobile or motorcycle.US Patent Office

It’s a mind-boggling task to keep track of the ballet of multiple vehicles interacting on the roads, and Harley’s patent documents include complex flow charts of the decision-making process. However, the intention is that riders will have a seamless experience, with a TFT dashboard display showing simple graphics that illustrate which vehicle the cruise control is locked onto, whether it’s a car or a bike and its relative position in the lane when riding in a staggered formation. Straightforward controls will allow you to set the distance from the vehicle ahead and the maximum speed that the ACC will accelerate to.

Patent Flow chart
Flow charts in the patent filing for Harley-Davidson’s adaptive cruise control show the complexity of the cruise control’s decision-making process.US Patent Office

Like KTM’s and Ducati’s radar systems, the proposed Harley design will also incorporate a rear radar sensor acting as a blind-spot monitor, lighting warning signals mounted in the appropriate mirror when there’s another vehicle lurking over your shoulder.

With Harley already having released much of its 2020 model lineup, it looks like we’ll be waiting until 2021 at the earliest to buy a Harley-Davidson with adaptive cruise control. In the meantime we’ll see KTM, Ducati, and potentially other brands get their own interpretations of the idea into showrooms. We will know soon if any of them are as sophisticated as the ideas Harley currently has under development.