Yamaha Motobot Takes on MotoGP Champ Valentino Rossi

Wilbert Tan

Few human drivers can keep up with Valentino Rossi, much less pull ahead of him. But how would a robot fare against one of the most successful motorcycle drivers of all time? Yamaha puts that idea to the test by pitting the Motobot–Yamaha’s autonomous motorcycle-riding humanoid robot–against the nine-time MotoGP World Champion.

About the Motobot project

Motobot is a humanoid robot capable of riding a motorcycle around a racetrack. Unlike automated self-driving vehicle technology, Motobot can operate traditional motorcycle designs that have not been modified with an autonomous system. The Motobot’s current version, its second, uses six actuators–as well as vehicle data such as vehicle speed, engine rpm, machine altitude, and more–to function. The actuators control steering, throttle, front brake, rear brake, clutch and gearshift pedal.

Motobot 2 vs. Rossi

With a targeted top speed of 200 kph, the Motobot’s goal is to beat Rossi’s 85.740-second time around the two-mile Thunderhill Raceway Park circuit in California. Check out the video below.

The bike didn’t beat Rossi’s time. In fact, it failed miserably, so score one for the human race. However, Yamaha considers the loss a learning process for the robot, adding that the technology has multiple real-world applications and the potential to “create new value for existing business and cultivate new business.”

Motobot’s fatal flaw

One obvious flaw was that the robot wasn’t able to move around the bike and control the body while maneuvering, which is crucial to bike riders. Human bike riders tilt their bikes to hug the curves and hunch forward when accelerating to keep the front tire gripping the ground–both of which the Motobot can’t do.

The good news is that Valentino Rossi’s job is safe for the time being. However, the Motobot’s claim that “I was created to surpass you” doesn’t sound like an empty threat, not with motorcycle giant Yamaha backing the technology. Someday yet, we may see that robots have overcome a human’s capabilities on the race track.

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