Technology is a beautiful thing. From F1 cars to road vehicles, it has made them safer and faster at the same time. The same story continues for motorcycles. ABS, by-wire throttle, traction control, riding modes, cornering ABS have all entered the picture to make them safer and then there is lot of stuff like titanium components, quick shifters and electronic suspension making them go faster. On top of that, the manufacturers are letting the riders own almost the track bikes, the Yamaha R1M for example.
But is this the pinnacle of technology on two wheels? The push is towards better connectivity when we talk about cars. The same can have a significant role to play in motorcycles. Here are some thoughts on where it could go next by being better connected, or rather a wishlist of what I want to see.
1- Riding data
I was looking for an app to measure acceleration and speed of my motorcycle when I ride. Turned out there are far too many apps for that on Google play store and none of them works. One app measured my 0-60 time to be 24 seconds while another one told me that I didn’t even cross 30 kph. However, I know my motorcycle is measuring so many things at all times, at least the speed if nothing else. Why can’t that data be shared through some basic connectivity option like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If a 3,000 rupee phone can have that, how hard can it be for a 1.4 lac rupee motorcycle?
Move up the chain and the motorcycles collect even more data. Go for a track day and you will learn that lot of people use shitty apps on their phones to measure how much they are leaning into a corner or how fast they are going around it. Premium motorcycle are generating that sort of data. Why not let the riders have access to it through a simple app? Yamaha added something like this with the latest R1 but it requires an additional device worth $1200 to be added for the communication interface.
At times it appears that the ECU knows more about my motorcycle than I do. Makes sense. There are sensors placed all over to ensure that things are running right and they are feeding data to the ECU. I was recently facing some issues with the electronics on my motorcycle and the ECU would talk to me in morse codes by flashing some lights on the console. Miss on counting a flash and you will probably end up stripping down the engine instead of the wiring.
Instead of passing that information through the morse codes or through the costly setup available at some workshops, can’t that be easily delivered through my phone? Many car companies offer their apps so that their customers can schedule services or call for RSA. That thing can be taken a step further for both cars and motorcycles if the data is shared. The service data is shared by the workshop with the company. That data can be synced with the rider through the app instead of a shitty service booklet on which the service guy writes in greek. This would make it easier to keep an active track of maintenance while the manufacturers will also be able to send notifications at the right time when the odo reading is about to reach service mark. Along with this, the need of a physical service booklet will be eliminated while the manufacturers will be able to get more people to bring in their vehicles for scheduled maintenance by sending alerts at the right time.
On top of all this, they have got better data about the usage patterns of their vehicles. They know if their motorcycles are being used for daily commute or for long weekend rides which could probably help them with everything from marketing to the development of future products. Counts for something?
3- Action cameras
Even during my daily commute, I spot at least one rider on an enthusiast friendly motorcycle with a GoPro (or one of the affordable alternatives) mounted on helmet. The number is significantly higher when I step out for weekend rides. The common denominator here is that either these cameras are controlled through the tiny switches or using a dedicated app. Now GoPro hasn’t been doing really great for a while. Unless there is some breakthrough in action cameras motivating people to upgrade their GoPros, they are happy with what they have got. This has reduced the headroom for GoPro’s growth. Why haven’t they thought of working with some manufacturers to start offering an extra button on the console that can just trigger the camera instead of the user having to reach for the camera or the phone everytime. And that is only part of it. There is lot more that they can do together which I have tried to highlight in next point.
4- Even more data
There is a small startup called Nexgear from the west of India and the team came up with an action camera called Frodo. The camera comes with a design that is different from what we are used to see on action cameras however, the camera is not the highlight. It comes with various sensors that keep track of your leans, jumps and all the crazy stuff you do. This recorded data coupled with your video footage is used to automatically create nice social media ready videos in few seconds.
When we know that the bikers form a significant number among the buyers of these cameras, why can’t we use the detailed data that is already available from our motorcycles and focus on the software aspect of things rather than just focusing on new action cameras that pack more megapixels? If a small team from Mumbai can achieve that, the giants can. Maybe start recording automatically when I pull the throttle or when I lean into a corner. Or maybe just tag all that information with the video and create a 60 second video automatically using all the nice bits so that I don’t have to sort through the hundreds of photos and boring looking videos. Any major brand like GoPro, Panasonic or Ricoh can easily sell the technology to masses if they bring it in.
5- Connected gear
I was sad when Skully went down the drain recently. Not because I was gonna buy that helmet, not even remotely. But because its success would have caught everyone’s attention and then we would have seen even better evolutions. And maybe, a distance maybe, we would have seen an affordable helmet carrying some of these developments.
However, even better would be helmets that can communicate with the motorcycle and make the HUD more functional and the helmet a part of the vehicle. I remember coming across a kickstarter project that featured helmet that included brake lamps and they worked by connecting a small box under the seat. More visibility in dark could only be a good thing. That sort of thing can be made seamless if manufacturers decide to look at this side instead of small startups hoping to raise money through Kickstarter.
I will keep updating this story with all such random ideas. And if you have doubts about the future of IoT in automobile industry, a recent research indicates a potential market size of USD 82.79 billion by year 2022 with largest share expected to go towards in-vehicle communication. Do share your thoughts on how technology can help in improving the riding experience in future.