Power(sports) to the robots
Autonomous technology for powersports applications hasn’t quite reached the levels of maturity already seen in the passenger-car market, but in the powersports world, work is going from strength to strength. In an article earlier this year on the Powersports Finance website, autonomy was one of the five key trends that will transform powersports, along with: peer-to-peer vehicle-sharing; machine learning; electric bikes; and on-demand rides and motorcycle taxis.
In July, Nikola Powersports—a division of the Nikola Motor Co., which arrived early in the electric semi-truck game—accepted a contract from Sofwerx to develop a roadmap that would lead to the demonstration of autonomous and mixed-autonomy capabilities of the Nikola Reckless, an electric UTV (utility task vehicle) that accelerates to 100 km/h (62 mph) from a standstill in just over 3 s. The vehicle has a modular capability that can plug and play with a Remote Weapons Station (RWS) and military drones. The near silent Nikola Reckless UTV recently conducted off-road testing with the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, CA and will continue to expand capabilities by offering autonomous features.
“This contract highlights Nikola’s innovative approach to UTV design. The military asked for a technologically superior electric vehicle and Nikola answered the call,” commented Andrew Christian, Nikola’s Vice President of Defense, Nikola Powersports. “We’ll prove that the Reckless can perform under four grueling scenarios including unmanned perimeter security with remote monitor, supply run, control recovery and autonomous multi-vehicle missions.”
“As we continue to grow our entire operation, I am continually impressed with the many military applications our Nikola Reckless can handle,” added Trevor Milton, CEO, Nikola Motor Co. “So in addition to helping the environment with zero-emissions vehicles, we are also helping our country.”
The plan is for the Nikola vehicle to be ready to demonstrate by May 2019. Between now and then, the team will build a remote-control function for the vehicle and support aerial and ground robots that can interface with and deploy from the Reckless vehicle.
Elsewhere, Yamaha Motor Research & Development continues its efforts regarding driverless vehicles. Having already shared its efforts in autonomous motorbikes with the Motobot, the Japanese manufacturer is also working on a four-wheeled proposition.
Following a $20 million investment in its’ own company working on autonomous vehicles, robotics, and drones in California—and a further $2 million in a U.S. startup Veniam concerned with connected vehicle know-how—results for Yamaha are bearing fruit. This investment has now produced the fully autonomous Viking VI (AS-X1) off-road vehicle that was featured in a promotional video by the manufacturer last year.
The Yamaha Viking VI is fully autonomous and includes a custom drive-by-wire system, navigation sensors such as LiDAR, point-to-point navigation demonstrated on the off-road test course, and the ability to avoid obstacles such as downed branches.
More recently, Yamaha joined the long list of vehicle manufacturers working with Nvidia as September brought news of a collaboration to apply intelligent technology to products in R&D module groups with AI (artificial intelligence) computing. Under the terms of the deal, Yamaha will use the Jetson AGV Xavier as the development system to power its upcoming lineup of autonomous machines including unmanned agriculture vehicles, last-mile vehicles, and marine products.
Jetson AGX Xavier, described by Nvidia as the world’s first computer created for AI, robotics, and edge computing, will enable to automate a wide range of Yamaha’s products by making them more intelligent. Target products include unmanned ground vehicles, which support automation of agricultural processes such as fruit picking; low-speed vehicles, based on golf carts, used for “last mile” transportation of people and logistics; and industrial robots and drones.
“Jetson AGX Xavier is a gamechanger for the autonomous machines industry,” said Deepu Talla, Vice President and General Manager of autonomous machines at Nvidia. “Using Xavier to infuse intelligence into its machines, Yamaha Motor will be able to bring to market what once seemed impossible to create.”
“By standardizing our autonomous machine development platform on Jetson AGX Xavier, Yamaha Motor will transform all of our products with more intelligence, to deliver excitement and the best experience for all users,” said Hiroaki Fujita, Chief General Manager of Advanced Technology Center and Solution Business Operations at Yamaha Motor.