When Yamaha introduced the world to its autonomous motorcycle-riding robot at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, it pulled no punches. The robot announces clearly and with a bit of a trill, “I am Motobot. I was created to surpass you.”
Lucky for you, the robot doesn't mean you in particular. It means MotoGP rider and fellow Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi, one of the best motorcycle racers of the past two decades. At the Nov. 8, 2015, race in Valencia, Spain, Rossi put up a top speed of 201.2 miles per hour (323.8 kilometers per hour) during practice on his Yamaha YZR-M1, which is a lofty goal for a robot. Even if you only take into account common lap speeds of MotoGP races in 2015, Motobot still has to surpass about 100 mph (160 kmh) to do better than a human.
Motobot may be a purpose-built experimental robot, but he's savvy enough to use SMART goals. In case you haven't run across that term in your annual review or school planning, that acronym stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound.
He's aiming to reach 62 mph (100 kmh), when traveling in a straight line, and he plans to achieve that goal later this year. By 2017, he'll have learned enough about racetracks to turn in a 124.2 mph (200 kph) or faster lap time — that's faster than human riders are currently racing. However, his final goal doesn't quite live up to the SMART ideal; Yamaha says only that it will take what it learns from Motobot's racing and development to “deliver new value” to its (human) motorcycle riders by 2020. But Motobot also seems to have a side goal of eventually piloting something like a snowmobile or personal watercraft.
What really makes Motobot different from other autonomous vehicles — besides his goal-setting acumen — is that the vehicle, a Yamaha YZF-R1M, is not autonomous at all. The robot acts as a rider on the motorcycle, squeezing levers and pressing pedals to make it move. The robot takes in data like speed, engine rpm, and the lean of the bike to compute how to use its actuators to follow the best racing line (and stay upright). There are six actuators that act like mechanical muscles to work the steering, throttle, front brake, rear brake, clutch and gearshift. As Motobot works from straight-line speed to taking on various racetracks, he'll get data from GPS and learn from each lap to improve his times with every attempt.