Increasing The Security Of Motorcyclists In Traffic

Watch your six! Damon Motors has a cloud-based plan to keep riders safe.

Damon Motors motorcycle
Damon Motors intends to use data from sensors located at the front, back, and sides of a motorcycle to calculate threat trajectories from more than five dozen moving objects simultaneously for enhanced rider situational awareness.Damon Motors

In the military, they call it situational awareness. Anyone who watches squirrels sees it in action, looking constantly in all directions—alert, totally vigilant. Motorcyclists operate in the same way because they must make up by their own vigilance for the texting and daydreaming of many auto drivers.

But as Jay Giraud, founder of the startup company Damon Motors, notes, traffic has increased times four in the past 50 years. The notional arrival of self-driving cars poses a special threat: Will their systems reliably detect motorcyclists in all circumstances? Millennials are more concerned about personal safety than previous generations. The combination makes many unwilling even to consider a motorcycle. How can emergent technologies make motorcycling safer?

Cheap computing power, artificial intelligence, the cloud, and sensors entering mass production for robot cars could add up to a significant improvement in motorcyclist security. Giraud explained how this can be done.

Sensors—automotive-grade radars and cameras—are placed on the two sides and to the front and rear of a motorcycle. Their data would be forwarded by 5G to the cloud where Damon’s AI engine would continuously extract from it the positions, velocities, and likely future trajectories of as many as 64 nearby objects. If one or more trajectories appear about to intersect with the motorcycle, its rider is warned. This, it is claimed, adds up to “awareness in 360 degrees.”

If this sounds too futuristic, consider that the US system Multi-Object Phase Tracking and Ranging (MOPTAR) was created decades ago to do exactly that, but with aircraft and missiles as its objects of interest.

Damon Motors prototype
Jay Giraud, seated on a Damon Motors prototype, spoke of a smoothly variable riding position for motorcycles and of a distant future of Damon making its own vehicle. Giraud founded Mojio, a connected automobile service.Damon Motors

Four radars? Won't that be expensive? They are driven by Gunn diodes—microwave sources on a chip—invented by one of us, the late Ian Gunn, who was a lifelong motorcyclist. As of 2018, automotive-grade 77 MHz radar prices were starting in the $50 range. As their production increases, that will drop. This makes Giraud's casual mention of a $250 system plausible.

Why AI? Because artificial intelligence after years of ballyhoo is finally showing capability of finding useful patterns in masses of data. That being so, the system’s ability to use its data to keep motorcyclists safe can be expected to increase as it learns.

When I asked Giraud how the motorcyclist would be warned of something requiring attention, I expected to hear the usual, that threats would be displayed on a helmet-integrated head-up display. But no, the threat warning is much more basic: vibration in the handlebars, just as large aircraft warn their pilots that stall is imminent by means of a “stick shaker.”

Head-up displays sound cool but their problem at present is that riders want the full range of helmet sizes and styles on the market, not necessarily the helmet marketed by the display maker. This makes the handlebar vibrator attractive. It is assisted by LEDs and a digital rearview mirror fed by the rear-facing camera.

Damon's website calls the company "a disruptive automotive-technology startup" and urges the reader to schedule a test drive. Damon recently announced it had received investment of $2.5 million.

It makes sense that the technologies being developed to make possible self-driving cars will also be applied to enhancing the awareness and safety of motorcyclists.