Ten minutes in Montreal: Hennes Fischer, Connected Motorcycle Consortium

HAVstory’s CEO Mark Gardiner was in Montreal for the 2017 World Congress of the Intelligent Transportation Society. This year, for the first time, the trade show included a booth for the Connected Motorcycle Consortium, and there were two special-interest sessions devoted entirely to motorcycle topics.

 Hennes Fischer has been seconded by his employer, Yamaha Motor Europe, to the CMC; he takes a leading role in government relations and PR. We caught up with him on the show floor.

Hennes Fischer has been seconded by his employer, Yamaha Motor Europe, to the CMC; he takes a leading role in government relations and PR. We caught up with him on the show floor.

HAVstory: Your Yamaha business card describes you only as ‘Senior Advisor’. What exactly do you advise Yamaha on?

Fischer: Anything they ask me about. I started in Product Planning, defining product concepts, and then I worked in R&D, and for the last couple of years I’ve worked in Brussels, on government relations with a focus on motorcycle safety. That’s largely focused on ITS, so that’s why I’m in the ITS world.

As for the Connected Motorcycle Consortium, I’m leader of the working group on PR and Government Relations, and I’m a member of the steering committee.

Give us a quick update on what the CMC’s done so far.

The first public event was the ITS World Congress in Bordeaux (2015) where we announced that we would establish the Consortium. We officially began work this year, and since then several additional members have joined. The core members – BMW, Honda, and Yamaha – also kind of run the consortium, in terms of administration and legally. Kawasaki was the first one to join, we have Suzuki and KTM on board now, and there are a couple of other OEMs that are in the process of joining.

We have ACEM (Association des Constructeurs Européen de Motocycles) as a member, too. We’re all also members because most of us have a factory in Europe. And we’re working with several universities. Dresden University is on board; they do accident research through a company called VUFO and they do in-depth accident studies, so we use them understand the dynamics of motorcycle accidents better, in order to have technical solutions that are based on facts. The University of Darmstadt, which is cooperating on vehicle dynamics studies, and the University of Ingolstadt, which has an ITS group that has done a lot of work for an auto maker. [Audi is based in Ingolstadt]

What are your goals here in Montreal?

Our main goal in participating in the ITS World Congress is to tell the world, “Here we are, and we’re working on motorcycle safety”, and to network. That concerns all kinds of companies and government organizations. We’ve just had a couple of car OEMs come by our booth; we were talking about how to integrate. We’ve talked to ministries of transport yesterday. This is the target audience; we need to talk to all of them because if we want vehicles to talk to vehicles, first people have to talk to people.

The motorcycle industry has a history of being conservative when it comes to adopting new technology, and motorcycle riders that I talk to about HAV/ITS tech are skeptical.

We’re working on that. We’re riders ourselves, so we share their concerns about data protection and privacy. But to bridge the gap we’ve had talks with several user organizations already, and as soon as we have a little bit more to show – to show people how it works in real life, we’ll invite the media and user organizations, because we want this to be accepted. We believe this is a big step for safety, for everyone.

We’re seeing some pretty aggressive debate here in Montreal, on the topic of DSRC vs C-V2X. What is the CMC’s position?

With regards to communication technology, we’re open. To us, that’s just a way to transmit the messages. We’ll go in whatever direction seems most suitable from a technical perspective. At this moment it’s difficult to say which way that will be, so we’re still completely open.

We understand the pluses and minuses of every technology but the motorcycle industry is so much smaller than the car industry that we will not be able to say, “This is the technology we want as motorcyclists or motorcycle makers.” We will have to align with the car guys and make sure that we go in the direction they go, because we need to communicate with every car, whether it’s a Volvo, Ford, BMW, Audi, Chrysler, or whatever it may be.

 When is a round table not round? The Secretary General of ACEM, Antonio Perlot served as Moderator of this actually rather linear 'Motorcycles Talk ITS' discussion. Other participants: Matthias Mörbe (Robert Bosch GmbH), Hennes Fischer, Stephanie Leonard (European Commission), Robert Kreeb (U.S. Dept. of Transportation), John Lenkeit (Dynamic Research Inc.) and Huei-Ru Tseng (Chinese-Tapei Industrial Technology Research Institute).  

When is a round table not round? The Secretary General of ACEM, Antonio Perlot served as Moderator of this actually rather linear 'Motorcycles Talk ITS' discussion. Other participants: Matthias Mörbe (Robert Bosch GmbH), Hennes Fischer, Stephanie Leonard (European Commission), Robert Kreeb (U.S. Dept. of Transportation), John Lenkeit (Dynamic Research Inc.) and Huei-Ru Tseng (Chinese-Tapei Industrial Technology Research Institute).  

What is the next goal or milestone for the CMC?

We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding amongst the ACEM members, agreeing that we’ll have C-ITS motorcycles available in Europe by 2020. Those may be optional or standard, and that could be a simple one or a more sophisticated one, but that’s one of the milestones.

Of course, we would like to have the motorcycle safety system – the Motorcycle Approach Indicator system – available as soon as possible, but that depends on the [auto makers] because if it’s not in a car it’s useless. So we can’t say, “We want it by year 20-something,” if it’s not in the cars.

One key to reaching a critical mass of equipped vehicles, for both autos and motorcycles, will be the availability of aftermarket systems. Although the CMC is currently dominated by bike makers, have you given thought to aftermarket V2V systems?

In principle, yes. But of course there are technical limitations. Many of the older bikes don’t have a CAN [Controller Area Network bus] so a lot of information’s not available. But in principle we’re looking at it; it’s just not clear to what extent older bikes would be able to transmit meaningful messages.

Another factor in reaching critical mass may be convincing people to pay more for a V2V system that will, in the beginning, only interact with a few other vehicles and as such may not effectively prevent many collisions. I’ve spoken to companies looking at other features they can package with a V2V system – so they can sell the ‘sizzle’ of some convenience features and give away the ‘steak’ of safety. Is the CMC considering a similar strategy to promote V2V in the early going?

The Consortium’s focused on safety, although of course the individual companies will come up with ideas to make their products appeal to their unique customers. The Consortium focuses on safety issues and the things we need to ‘standardize’ between us so that every motorcycle will speak the same language.

Living in the U.S., where Cadillac already has a V2V-equipped CTS sedan on the market, I’m curious about Harley-Davidson’s status. Will Harley-Davidson join the CMC any time soon?

Well, they’re a member of ACEM, and they’ve signed the MOU. [Company representatives] have attended some sessions where we’ve discussed future plans; but of course I can’t speak for their internal decisions.

How does a company join the CMC? What’s the scale of the financial commitment?

There is a financial commitment, but it’s very reasonable. We are mostly keen on input, that means manpower – we’re clear on membership levels, in terms of how much manpower you have to input.

How many people are involved?

We have companies that have a couple of people; we have companies that have more people involved but not full time – but you have to have a significant involvement. Most of the people working for the CMC have other duties at their companies, but they’re mainly working in the safety area, and in fact mainly working on connectivity and ITS matters.

Is there another question I should have asked?

So far, a lot of car companies have solved [autonomous operations around] for cars and bicycles, but if you solved it for cars and bicycles, you haven’t solved it for motorcycles. To detect motorcycles with direct sensors only is an extremely hard problem, and the Tesla is just one example.

We’ve been doing testing, for example, of a motorcycle approaching a car from the rear, as the car’s changing lanes, and there’s many instances where the car simply doesn’t recognize the motorcycle. The challenges are speed, and silhouette; there are so many different shapes of bikes.

So the question is, how do we integrate with the car industry. Most of us are members of Car 2 Car as well, where we have a direct link to the car guys, and we’re making a real effort to get them around our table. Some of them have even called us and asked, “What do you suggest?”