Your self-balancing motorcycle of the future may follow you around like a puppy

Honda debuts Moto Riding Assist self-balancing technology at CES that allows motorcycle to balance itself at a stop and at low speeds without gyros

honda, moto riding assist, self balancing motorcycle, negative trail, robotics technology
Although the scene in the video was more of a demonstration of the robotics capability of the Honda Moto Riding Assist concept than any real world application, it showed that the motorcycle of the future could possibly park itself, similar to other automobile concepts.Screen capture by Sport Rider/Video by Honda Motor Co.

When it comes to safety and technology, you can always count on Honda to be at the cutting edge of development. The global company’s latest demonstration of this engineering prowess was at the opening of the annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show) held in Las Vegas, where Honda introduced its “Cooperative Mobility Ecosystem” concept aimed at transforming “the mobility experience of the future and improve customers’ quality of life.” Part of this display included Honda’s innovative “Moto Riding Assist” technology that utilizes robotics technology to allow a motorcycle to balance itself at slow speeds and while stopped without gyroscopes.

Riding a motorcycle at very slow speeds requires a modicum of skill from the rider to maintain balance and keep from falling over. Because of its single-track wheel stance, a two-wheeled vehicle will want to tip over without some sort of balance assistance. This involves a subtle dance of power application and steering corrections from the rider, with steering movements being the primary factor.

Gyroscopes can help with balancing, but they add significant weight and bulk. Honda sidestepped this problem by using an innovative combination of sophisticated robotics, proprietary software technology, and various levers and electric motors to modify the steering angle and subtly turn the front wheel to counteract the motorcycle’s tendency to tip over.

If you’ve ever seen a cyclist (or motorcycle observed trials competitor) stay upright at a complete stop without putting their foot down by turning the front wheel, you’ve seen a very basic version of this principle. Honda has taken this a step further by having the steering controlled by an electric motor attached to the top of the steering head—basically, a “steer by wire” system. In addition, an electronically controlled linkage system on the bottom triple clamp extends the rake angle of the front fork relative to the steering head as the bike rolls to a stop, changing the steering geometry’s trail (the distance between a line drawn straight down through the front axle to the ground and a line running straight through the steering head to the ground). By raking out the fork relative to the steering head, the trail changes from positive (the line through the steering head intersects the ground ahead of the front axle, like most motorcycles) to negative trail (the steering head line ends up behind the front axle).

honda, moto riding assist, self balancing motorcycle, negative trail, robotics technology
The Moto Riding Assist system is integrated into the fork and steering head of the motorcycle, with the electric motor controlling the steering mounted atop the steering head, and the linkage that extends the fork rake attached to the lower triple clamp. This allows the system to be retro-fitted to many existing motorcycles without major modifications according to Honda.Photo courtesy of Honda

By changing the trail from positive to negative, the motorcycle’s steering has much greater effect on restoring balance. With negative trail, turning the steering into the direction the bike is falling actually forces the bike upright, making it effective as a restoring force in balancing the bike. By using sophisticated robotics software to control the steering, the Moto Riding Assist is able to keep the bike upright with or without a rider aboard. In the above video, Honda even was able to create a feature that allows the bike to follow a person like a pet behind its master—although the person in the video never exceeds a slow walking pace, perhaps because any faster would cause the lower linkage to begin retracting and convert the steering trail back to positive, opening up a can of robotics software worms that Honda perhaps didn't want to hassle with yet.

honda, moto riding assist, self balancing motorcycle, negative trail, robotics technology
By extending the fork rake relative to the steering head with the electronically controlled linkage, the Moto Riding Assist creates negative trail, which enable the steering to have much more influence on balancing the bike at a stop and slow speeds.Screen capture by Sport Rider/Video by Honda Motor Co.

Because the system is mounted on the steering head and triple clamp areas, Honda says the Moto Riding Assist can be retro-fitted to many existing models without extensive modification. That the system was fitted to a DCT-equipped NC750S fits right with part of its applicable market: commuting urban riders who are intimidated by the skills required to pilot a full-size bike at low speeds. There were no announcements on whether the Moto Riding Assist system would be made into production, but you can bet this concept isn’t far off in the horizon.