Honda, BMW experiment with the autonomous motorcycle

BMW and Honda(s hmc) have already added plenty of connectivity to their cars, but now they’re turning attention to vehicles that have fewer than four wheels. The two automotive giants are working with the University of Michigan and Australian startup Cohda Wireless to put networking smarts into their motorcycles.

Adelaide-based Cohda designs radio systems and software that will not only link nearby vehicles on the road to each other, but also to the road itself. The idea behind its autonomous car technology is to create an ever-changing ad-hoc network of vehicles communicating their intentions and interacting with the infrastructure of the road. (For more detailed information, see GigaOM’s connected car infographic).

Known as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), these technologies could help power self-driving cars of the future. The University of Michigan Transportation Institute (UMTRI) runs one of the key test-beds for that technology, and its lab is quite impressive: It’s running an ongoing trial of 3,000 connected vehicles in Ann Arbor, Mich. That’s where Honda and BMW will put their connected motorcycles through the paces.

Motorcycles may not have much room on their instrument panels for the connected infotainment systems going into today’s cars, but they could definitely benefit from any technology that makes mounting a crotch rocket safer. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only 5 percent of driving fatalities involved a motorcycle, but 80 percent of all motorcycle accidents result in injury if not death.

Cohda Wireless autonomous carOne of the major goals of V2I and V2V efforts is to reduce accidents and improve safety on the road. Vehicles could make quicker and better driving decisions than drivers because they would be able to access more info from the networks around them and react to it nearly instantaneously (They’re also less easily distracted than human drivers).

As for motorcycle applications, Cohda and UMTRI plan to test technologies that let bikes talk to traffic lights, roadside beacons and other cars, warning them of green lights about to turn red and dangerous curves ahead requiring them to slow down. By using a long-range secure form of Wi-Fi, a motorcycle could communicate with a car long before the drivers can see one another as they both approach a blind intersection.

As motorcycles eventually become electric, they can these V2I networks and even cellular connectivity to help find power stations and select the most energy efficient routes to their destinations based on traffic conditions. This week, electric motorcycle maker Brammo said it implemented similar technology into its forthcoming Empulse, using Abalta’s range calculation and navigation system.

Cohda is just one of the vendors making these V2I and V2V systems. Arada Systems, Savari, Kapsch TrafficCom and the nonprofit Industrial Technology Research Institute are all supplying radio gear and traffic management technology for U.S. government research trials. Codha, however, definitely has momentum behind it. It supplies the equipment for half of UMTRI’s 3,000 test vehicles and has attracted strategic investments from Cisco Systems(s csco) and NXP Semiconductors(s nxpi). Cisco is using Codha software in its roadside V2I gateways, while NXP and Codha have jointly developed the radio chips embedded in vehicles.

BMW photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Dikiiy