By: Tycho de Feijter for 6th Gear Automotive Solutions.
Beijing, August 2018

Harley Davidson is in trouble. Sales are down, their motorcycle lineup is aging, and their customer base is aging even harder. The young aren’t interested in hogs, they want high tech, with a cool sauce. Harley is aware of these problems, and tries to fight back. In a bit to attract a younger generation of buyers they have announced all kinds of new initiatives, but without any sign of a wider strategy. There is the long-awaited LiveWire electric bike, there is a plan to make cheap Harley’s in Asia,  and they moved into adventure bikes.

Harley Davidson has also learned about that peculiar new thing called ‘autonomy’, just the kind of high tech those younger buyers want, and they decided to jump on the bandwagon. Leaked images from the U.S. Patent Office show that the company is working on an autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system. The basic idea is similar to a system KTM is developing: various sensors scan the road in front of the vehicle, and computers make to decision to apply the brakes, or not.

But Harley adds one crucial dimension to the system: the driver. More specifically, the driver’s condition. Not only does Harley’s system scan the road, it scans the driver too. There are sensors in the handlebars, saddle, foot pegs and inside the helmet. These sensors can sense if a driver is tired, if his head is turned away from the road, if both handlebars are being held, and if the driver is properly seated in the saddle.

If the system notices that the driver is ill-prepared for an emergency it will show a warning sign by flashing lights trough the indicators and instrument panel. If the driver does not respond the system will automatically brake to slow the bike down. If the system sees an unprepared driver and an emergency situation, it will emergency-brake the bike to a full stop.

When the system is ready for the road is yet unknown, but it sure sounds high tech. But will it be enough to win the hearts of those younger consumers? Well… A system that checks if a driver is tired or distracted sounds more like an old-peoples thing. And worryingly, the motorbike used on the patent images is the Heritage Classic, the eldest bike in the company’s lineup. Harley Davidson it seems, still got a long way to go, and it won’t be an easy ride.