Yamaha Motor continues to invest in self-driving technology

For the typical rider, self-driving technology might be the least desirable feature a manufacturer could put into a motorcycle. For a motorcyclist, taking control of the vehicle, refining and perfecting cornering, braking, accelerating and shifting techniques is an integral part of the pleasure of riding a motorcycle.

But what if self-driving technology could keep drivers safe, keep novice drivers on two wheels and help learn to drive properly, or ease a dreary highway ride? Yamaha Motor Co. has been experimenting with self-driving technology for motorcycles for some time now, most notably with its MOTOBOT series of driving robots (see MOTOBOT 2 vs. Valentino Rossi here). The company recently continued its investment in a company called TIER IV Inc., which is a leading developer of self-driving technology. It looks like Yamaha is taking autonomous driving seriously.

Yamaha’s latest transaction with TIER IV is their third such investment in the Japanese company, following those made in August 2017 and July 2019. TIER IV is the developer of Autoware, billed as the first self-driving operating system open source to the world. The “source” part is important.

By making the software source code public, TIER IV hopes that other developers will use, modify, and contribute to the adoption and advancement of the Autoware operating system. Yamaha hopes the investment will help establish and promote self-driving technology, which will be of particular interest to Yamaha’s automated transportation solutions business that they are developing for factories.

This latest investment from Yamaha is for a so-called “Series B” financing, which is described as a second round of financing for a company that has passed particular milestones and exited the initial start-up phase. In its press release, Yamaha notes that other investors in TIER IV include Sompo Holdings, Inc., one of Japan’s leading insurance companies, and Bridgestone Corporation. TIER IV was one of several companies targeted by Yamaha under its new medium-term management plan for 2022 to 2024, with the aim of making it a future core business.

While Yamaha’s plan with TIER IV is not specifically geared towards motorcycle automation, their MOTOBOT program clearly is (although MOTOBOT is not intended to create a fully autonomous motorcycle, but rather to develop a better understanding of the relationship between rider inputs and the machine). Autoware and MOTOBOT both aim to create a safer and more efficient transportation system, whether fully automated or not. It’s all part of a future that motorcycle manufacturers are working towards, where accidents are avoided through improved technology.

Earnest L. Veasey