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Inertial measurement platform. Lately we hear a lot those three words in a row in reference to new motorcycles, but they are no longer just a matter of a select group of ultra-specialized supercars for the circuit.
The benefits of the inertial measurement system and its multiple applications are opening more and better doors to elements that reinforce motorcycle safety and at the same time allow us to have fun on the motorcycle, but What is it and how does it work?
Everything you need to know about the inertial measurement platform
What is the inertial measurement platform? The Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU) is an electronic device housed inside a small box, similar to a motorcycle's switchboard, which is usually somewhere out of sight.
Inside this little box a series of accelerometers and / or gyros are placed that detect linear acceleration. Depending on the arrangement of these elements, the IMU can detect at all times how the motorcycle is acting: lateral inclination, rotation on the vertical axis or pitch.
Where does the inertial measurement platform come from? The IMU began to be applied in the world of aviation. Airplanes need a wealth of information to help aircraft stay in flight safely. Especially the development of this technology was linked to the development of autopilot systems, the first being presented in 1912 by Sperry Corporation with a first flight in 1914 in which a gyroscope was used aided by an altitude indicator and a compass. We could consider the invention of Elmer Ambrose Sperry as the predecessor of the IMU.
The first inertial measurement platforms on motorcycles landed in the motorcycle world championships in the MotoGP era as a device capable of making pilots faster and at the same time safer. IMUs are the 'culprits' that we no longer see so many highside.
The application of the IMU to motorcycles in the last decade has been the biggest safety advance in modern motorcycling.
How does the inertial measurement platform work? Depending on the type of sensors it contains, the IMUs can be two, three, four, five or six channels. Each of these channels detects a type of movement and quantifies it.
This quantification involves generating a certain amount of data in which it is collected where the motorcycle is moving, with what intensity and the force that is being generated to carry out that movement or if an opposing force is being carried out to alleviate or compensate for that movement. For example, when we make the initial force to knock down a motorcycle at the entrance to the curve or when we return it to its vertical position or we go until an opposite change of direction.
Why is it so important on motorcycles? Taking into account that in general, cars take several decades of technological development from motorcycles (although this gap is closing more and more), it is curious to note that cars do not have IMUs, or not in the same sense as we know him on motorcycles. Cars that include self-driving systems in their technology base their technology and the decisions it makes on sensors, cameras and radars.
Its use on motorcycles is a vital advance in safety of motorcyclists because in a way motorcycles work on the asphalt more like an airplane than a car. A car behaves (turns, accelerates, brakes or loses traction) virtually flat; A motorcycle leans in six directions on the three main axes (vertical, longitudinal and transverse) and the level of safety depends on this inclination.
What is the IMU for? It should be noted that the IMU itself does nothing. The IMU is a source of data with which the electronic section of the motorcycle can make better decisions. Taking this data on how the motorcycle is behaving and adding it to that of the control unit (speed, wheel speed difference, engine revolutions, throttle position, ABS …), the engineers of the brands can add new skills to each model. The IMU helps other devices do their jobs better.
How does the inertial measurement platform help? Taking a very simple example, some motorcycles such as the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT or the Ducati Multistrada 1260 have LED headlights for cornering lighting. The IMU detects the lateral inclination when we are taking a curve to illuminate the inner margin with specific diodes.
Escalating towards more complex devices we have ABS. Anti-lock braking system releases pressure in pulses when it detects that the wheel (front or rear) has locked up. If this blockade is stopped, nothing happens; If that blockage occurs in a curve due to an unforeseen event, we end up on the ground with a very high degree of probability.
The IMU is used to detect that the motorcycle is leaning laterally in a curve, it alerts the ABS system and says "hey, watch out! We are in a curve so don't let the wheel get stuck", the speed difference between both wheels is analyzed and the dreaded lock is prevented saving one more than possible fall.
The same thing happens with traction control. In origin the stability or traction controls of motorcycles were very primitive, detecting the speed difference between the wheels using the sensor readings ABS. When they detected a faster turn in the rear wheel it cut ignition. Not now.
Wheel speed sensors are now supplemented by the degree of bank, the degree of lift of both axles and the turn, implementing traction controls that are intelligent enough to allow a high degree of fun that, for example, in the Ducati Panigale V4 allow faster turning in a curve taking advantage of the slip of the rear wheel.
ABS with cornering assistance, intelligent traction control, antiwheelie, hill start assist, dive control to prevent the rear wheel from lifting under heavy braking… The possibilities of the IMU are almost endless.
What motorcycles equip the IMU? As we said in the beginning, the motorcycles that brought the inertial measurement platforms were the flagships of some brands. The Aprilia with the RSV4 for sports bikes and Ducati with the Multistrada 1200 for street bikes inaugurated the fever for electronics.
Since then this initially expensive and technically complex device has been spreading both by the rest of the brands and by their families, falling on less performance models but that can also benefit from the extra security that it entails. For 2019 more mainstream models like the Kawasaki Versys 1000 can equip it, the Ducati 950 family like the Multistrada 950 and Hypermotard 950 ride it and KTM is also extending it for its 790 Duke and 790 Adventure and Adventure R.
What could the IMU serve in the future? The applications of the IMU are as many as the engineers of each brand can imagine. By implementing new accessories to the IMU and the ECU such as position sensors or radars, it is possible to make a motorcycle drive itself.
The race for motorcycles that can be ridden without the need for a human being has already begun. BMW presented the video of an autonomous R 1200 GS and KTM and Ducati are working on intelligent cruise controls that can adapt their speed.
Far from assuming a future in which we lose the pleasure and adrenaline of riding a motorcycle, these technologies applied to V2X or V2V communication networks (vehicle to infrastructure or vehicle to vehicle) can generate much safer scenarios for all road users. Because in the end it is not a question of the motorcyclist stopping driving, but of doing so with increasingly intelligent and safer technological support.