New York: On Tuesday in Santa Monica, California, BMW Group debuted a motorcycle concept so artificially intelligent that it eliminates the need for the rider to wear protective gear, including a helmet.
The BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100 motorcycle is the latest incarnation of BMW’s Vision Next series, which celebrates 100 years of the German brand with forward-looking concept vehicles from Rolls-Royce, Mini, and BMW. The group has been hosting events around the world this year to debut each new concept in a different city. California’s event, held in an old airplane hangar, displayed the motorcycle along each of the group’s other previously shown concepts. This is the fourth and final of its concepts to be shown.
So what does the future of motorcycles hold?
At least according to BMW, it’s a bike that has self-balancing systems to keep it upright both when standing (a boon for novice riders, on par with training wheels for bicycles) and in motion (beneficial for experienced riders who want erudite handling at high speed). Several systems—one BMW calls a “Digital Companion,” which offers riding advice and adjustment ideas to optimize the experience, and one called “The Visor,” which is a pair of glasses that span the entire field of vision and are controlled by eye movements—correlate to return active feedback about road conditions to the rider while adjusting the ride of the bike continuously depending on the rider’s driving style.
It’s meant to equal the driverless systems automakers also expect to be producing in cars by 2040 and beyond.
“The bike has the full range of connected data from its surroundings and a set of intelligent systems working in the background, so it knows exactly what lies ahead,” said Holger Hampf, BMW’s head of user experience.
It also purports to use a novel matte black “flexframe” that’s nubile enough to allow the bike to turn without the joints found on today’s motorcycles. The idea is that when a rider turns the handlebar, it adjusts the entire frame to change the direction of the bike; at low speeds only a slight input is required, while at high speeds it needs strong input to change course. This should increase the safety factor of riding a bike so a small twitch at 100 mph isn’t going to shoot you in an unexpected new direction.
But not everything about this concept bike is forward-looking: The black triangle shape of the frame combined with the white trim lines and classic boxer engine form are meant to evoke the 1923 R32, the first motorcycle BMW ever made. The seat, upper frame cover, and wings are made of carbon, and the bike will run on a futuristic “non-gasoline power source.” (Naturally; this is a concept, after all.)
Another uber-modern touch: The area at the front will have virtually no buttons except a red rocker switch on the end of the right handlebar.
The BMW concept motorcycle seems extremely far-fetched, and the group has released only rail-thin details about what to expect in terms of bringing it to production, if it ever does. But like all its Vision Next concepts, BMW execs said that they intended it that way. After all, they wouldn’t want to tip off competitors.
“Normally when we develop a motorcycle, we tend to think five to 10 years in advance,” Edgar Heinrich, head of design at BMW Motorrad, said in a press statement. “On this occasion, we looked much further ahead and found … some very attractive prospects.” Bloomberg