Common Tread

Rossi beats Motobot in man vs. machine race

Oct 27, 2017

In conjunction with the Tokyo Motor Show, Yamaha has released the latest video documenting the progress of Motobot, its motorcycle-riding robot. This time, Motobot tests his lap times against Valentino Rossi on the two-mile west course at Thunderhill Raceway in California.

For now, at least, flesh and brains still beats artificial intelligence. Motobot posted a 117.504-second lap, which wasn’t enough to surpass Rossi’s 85.740-second pass aboard a Yamaha YZF-R1M.

A little more than 30 seconds shy of Rossi is still a huge achievement for Motobot. Yamaha and SRI International began work on the Motobot project in 2015 and have continually improved their vision of “a humanoid robot capable of autonomously riding a motorcycle around a racetrack.”

While a "man vs. machine" theme contest makes a good premise for a promotional video, the Motobot project has much broader implications. We’re no strangers to Yamaha, but SRI International needs an introduction. They’re ideal partners for this project, because they developed the first mobile intelligent robot, Shakey.

SRI International also created the intelligent virtual assistant Siri, later sold to Apple. Working on the first autonomous motorcycle-riding robot with Yamaha was a natural fit.

Yamaha has more in mind than an attempt to beat the most famous motorcycle racer in the world. In time, autonomous moto-robots could actually help humans by improving our motorcycles in new ways. Looking forward, Yamaha hopes that by “using MOTOBOT technologies to optimize control of vehicle dynamics, we will develop higher performing and safer forms of mobility.” Advancements in testing and data collection could be possible for production machines with next-gen Motobots pushing them to their limits — without endangering human test riders.

The Motobot project also shows a serious investment on Yamaha’s part in autonomous technology in motorcycles. Mark Gardiner mentioned Motobot in his in-depth series on Highly Autonomous Vehicles, and it continues to show promise as a pioneer in intelligent two-wheel tech. There’s no telling what the future holds, but I’m sure Rossi will be getting a call for a rematch soon. And it won’t be from Shakey.