Yamaha steers towards self-ride motorbikes

Japanese group set to tap Silicon Valley know-how to fulfil automation aims

Yamaha Motor is aiming to bring self-driving technology to motorcycles by tapping into know-how from Silicon Valley, in the midst of its third big attempt to crack the car market.

While the race for automated car driving is roaring ahead, the chief executive of the world’s second-largest motorcycle-maker believes it will take at least a decade to bring the same technology to two-wheelers on a commercial basis.

Yamaha is starting off with modest investments of up to $20 million in Silicon Valley, where it set up a company last summer to seek the latest technologies in autonomous vehicles, robotics and drones.

In February, it invested $2 million in a US start-up called Veniam for its connected vehicle know-how.


"It's not a sense of crisis, but I want to make sure we stay ahead of the race," chief executive Hiroyuki Yanagi said.

Yamaha’s efforts in autonomous vehicles so far have involved a motorcycle-riding humanoid robot called Motobot. But Mr Yanagi does not envision a completely driverless motorcycle. “Our current target is how to assist the rider. The rider can focus more on safety if the machine handling becomes autonomous and artificial intelligence can be used for course selection.”

The closest Yamaha has achieved in terms of a rider assistance system is the R1, its latest high-end racing motorcycle, which is installed with sensors and technologies to control slides, brakes and other movements.

Yamaha joins hundreds of Japanese companies that have a presence in Silicon Valley.

To adapt to a shift towards automation and driverless vehicles, Toyota is spending $1 billion on an institute in Silicon Valley.

Japan's largest employment company, Recruit Holdings, also poached an expert from Google to set up an AI research lab in the area.

But consultants advising Japanese groups say they are often slow in making investment decisions, and many have flooded into Silicon Valley without a clear idea of what kind of technologies they are looking for.


Yamaha’s latest push comes as the company aims to launch a two-seater commuter vehicle in


as early as 2019.

The entry into four-wheel vehicles stems from Mr Yanagi’s desire to create new revenue-boosting businesses beyond motorcycles and boats.

Previous attempts to enter the car market failed and analysts have queried the feasibility of making an expensive bet at a time of slowing demand in emerging markets for motorcycles. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016)