Ian Kerr MBE takes a look at the technology that is taking motorcycle safety to the next level and the pioneers driving it..
THE ONE big problem the motorcycle industry has is that safety and security don’t help to sell bikes. In some ways they act in the opposite direction. However, thankfully there are still people working away to try and make motorcycling as safe as it possibly can be (likewise, motorcycles as secure as possible) within the limitations of a single track vehicle.
Motorcycle or Powered Two Wheeler (PTW) crashes and collisions (don’t forget we can’t use the accident word these days!) are often difficult to analyse, especially if they are single vehicle and unobserved. So to really understand how incidents happen, researchers need a motorcycle that can measure everything that happens at the material time, not just rely on tests after.
Sure, these days we have black boxes that are either journey data recorders (JDR) or incident data recorders (IDR), but they have limitations. However, a KTM Super Adventure 1290 test bike, called the Motorcycle Probe Vehicle or MoProVe for short, has been developed by the Vienna University and the Austrian Institute of Technology to study all aspects of motorcycle crashes.
As with most of these things, the study is being driven by committed individuals. In this case Peter Saleh from the Austrian Institute of Technology, who is one of the project coordinators, together with Professor Horst Ecker from the Vienna University of Technology (TU-Wien).
Fear not, we are not talking about pure academics looking for work. Peter, a graduated civil engineer, is a motorcyclist himself and has been working on road safety during his studies, gathering work experience at the Austrian Road Safety Board, and has years of track experience.
Since 2005 he has been working for the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) as a senior research engineer and thematic coordinator for road safety issues on the correlation of road infrastructure parameters (think of the road surface condition, road lay-out) with road safety.
One of Peter’s first projects within the AIT was the relation between curve radii (the ‘width’ of the curve) and motorcycle accidents. It is part of his job to understand the circumstances of the road infrastructure that influence crashes, i.e: what is the specific influence of a specific curve on a vehicle?
After using test and measurement trucks for a long time, cars equipped with cameras and all kind of sensors and even bicycles with sensors, powered two wheeler (PTW) were the missing link for AIT. However, their project partner, Vienna University of Technology, had long-term experience with a Honda CB500 to do research on things like the human reactions in braking manoeuvres, ABS tests and the like. So it was a logical step to combine the specific knowledge and experience of both institutes and equip a motorcycle with high-tech sensors and processors to study the human, machine and road factors, and the interaction within that triangle.
The first bike they used was a KTM SMR 990 Supermoto, which proved not to be ideal for this kind of work. But KTM heard of the project and donated a Super Adventure 1290, one of the most sophisticated machines on the market, and MoProVe was created.
Peter Saleh explains:
The KTM Super Adventure has all the state of art technology on board. The sensors of the bike’s safety system can also be used for the two additionally installed and independently operating measurement systems of the Motorcycle Probe Vehicle. These two added systems from 2D Debus & Diebold Messsysteme and Racelogic cover more or less the same signals and therefore check each other and the on-board system of the KTM itself.
Despite all these installed technologies the bike is still street legal. All the systems are stored in the standard panniers and only some small sensors and some buttons in the cockpit visually differentiate it from a standard bike. Despite the equipment, it rides and looks just like a normal KTM Super Adventure.
Obviously one of the most crucial things is to know exactly where the bike is, so two GPS antenna are used to make sure its location is accurate to within a few centimetres. From there the system can measure the radii of bends and roads and sudden events, like unevenness or abrupt braking manoeuvres. So, not only can they establish the exact location, but also braking forces, vibrations, skid resistance of the road surface, slip ratio of the tyres etc, in order to compare it with the same data obtained from cars and trucks at the same location and speed to see how the bike is affected by the terrain.
As part of the investigation the team will also visit the sites of crashes where some of the data is known. At these locations, thanks to it’s additional features, the KTM can obtain more information.
Discussing the project, Peter Saleh said: “We are going to ride these roads with predetermined speeds to compare our measured data with that of the crashes and the specific routes. The main objective is to establish what makes a specific spot or curve dangerous, even though it doesn’t look that way and is not signalled as dangerous. We also want to establish the correlation between driving style and risk.”
He continued: “The planning and design standards of the roads are mainly based on passenger car dynamics. We want to know the difference in behaviour between cars and motorcycles and the different trajectories that are taken. And the way we do this is by comparing the output of the motorcycle systems to that of the car systems.
“As far as I know we are the only ones that do these kind of comparisons and we can use the outcomes to validate in-vehicle sensor systems.
“If systems are stable, we can start with optimising external sensors for safety systems. In-vehicle data gives us the opportunity to control equipment like airbag jackets and to develop eCall systems. We already know that you cannot use one system for all kind of motorcycles as the differences between the kind of bikes, their characteristics, are too large.”
A team of five currently ride the explorative machine with the majority of the testing being done on the public highway, making the testing and results more relevant to real world riding. However, high speed tests are done on a track, which is not only safer but tests the sensors’ resistance to vibration.
Thankfully, Saleh has answers for those who suggest the same results could be achieved with computer simulations, saving time and money: “No, certainly not. For computer models you need the data that we are collecting.
“Besides, the existing motorcycle models on computer software are far away from real life dynamics and they are really not fully comparable to real tests. The only thing we can do with computer models is to extrapolate some effects of our own measurements to speeds that are too high for us to ride safely.”
Eventually, Peter Saleh and his team will have enough research based on real world riding to help the manufacturers better understand how a motorcycle really reacts on the road under various conditions and situations. Such knowledge, combined with the manufacturers’ own tests and safety systems, will result in safer motorcycles and hopefully safer roads themselves, with road engineers taking the abilities of a single track vehicle into account when working out not only the radius of a bend, but also where to put (or not) street furniture.
Safety may not be a big sales tool, but thankfully work such as this will help us all to stay safe and enjoy riding. Even if we may not actually appreciate what has gone into making sure we can arrive at out destination in one piece!