Building a smart vehicle, no matter how many wheels

The secret isn’t in the motorcycles, cars or roads—it’s in the cloud

By | 5 minute read | September 5, 2019

IBM Cloud smart vehicle platforms

The LiveWire's connection to the IBM Cloud drives its digital performance. Photo via Harley Davidson

Harley-Davidson’s new LiveWire electric motorcycle is wowing bikers and the press with its power, range and digital features. What e-hog enthusiasts may not realize is that the IBM Cloud is making many of its exciting new features possible.

Before the LiveWire takes a spin at IBM’s IAA 2019 booth, we spoke with a trio of IBM automotive experts who helped Harley-Davidson develop its first e-bike.

Mardan Kerimov, senior managing consultant at IBM Global Automotive Center of Competence: People now know smart cars, but a smart bike might still be a mystery. Looking at what we’ve been developing with Harley-Davidson, what’s so different and special that has the bike world so revved up?

Binoy Damodaran, associate partner in Cognitive Solution at IBM Global Business Services: This is the first global, connected vehicle launch by any major motorcycle manufacturer. And it’s quite different from a connected car in that bikes ride so much differently, with very different needs, features and requirements.

Security is a major concern, for example. Many connected features for a bike are the same as for cars, like you still have vehicle maintenance and health. But there’s added features: tamper and stolen-vehicle alerts, because people can just pick up a bike, put it on a trailer and take it.

Then there’s LiveWire. Being electric, you have charging and being connected to think about. You can plot out your trip to hit charging stations along the way.

Tony Stone, North America Connected Solutions Leader: Yet at the end of the day, it’s about that same joy of the open road that is Harley-Davidson’s heritage. It’s riding with your friends and family—we’ve all seen that group of Harleys cruising down the highway. And with the new platform that just went live, H-D Connect, you can enhance that rider experience by plotting and sharing your rides.

Damodaran: And the foundation for both the bikes and H-D Connect is our cloud partnership.

Kerimov: The IBM Cloud really is what brings the overall intelligence to the features, whether on mobile devices, in vehicles or through other Harley-Davidson channels. Cloud is like the central nervous system. It’s the brain receiving all the signals from different sensors embedded in the LiveWire.

For example, the sensors that detect whether the vehicle has been tampered with are tied to GPS, to accelerometers, all kinds of inputs making acute measurements. That data passes through the brain and instantaneously alerts the owner if necessary.

Every piece of the LiveWire is smart, especially its controls.
Photos via Harley-Davidson

Damodaran: Right. And one of cloud’s biggest features is the ability to grow, expand, interact and shift. And it’s not just one cloud, it’s many clouds, some public, some private, some at the edge—together what we call hybrid cloud. It’s scalable and adaptable. Without that, it would be almost impossible to address the needs of real vehicles operating in the real world in real time.

Here’s a crucial feature of hybrid cloud. Historically, OEMs relied on third-party providers for their connected-vehicle offerings, but those third parties kept all the data. Now, with new cloud capabilities, you own the data, you manage the platform, it gives you agility and control.

The OEMs realize connected vehicles aren’t just a feature set—it’s their future. Connectedness allows for so many insights, which then helps develop more and better products that suit customer needs as never before.

The Harley-Davidson plant in York, Pa. Photo via Harley-Davidson

Kerimov: Cloud helps with company operations, too. Proactive vehicle health and maintenance allows OEMs to recognize issues that might necessitate a recall. Best of all, connected vehicles support over-the-air updates. You can tune up your bike or car without having to go into the shop. Suddenly it has all these new features—almost like a whole new vehicle.

Stone: The cloud also helps you build trust and value, whether it’s a smart car,  bike or home. Look at a smart fridge, say. I’m willing to share my data, location, preferences—but there has to be some value I get back. It’s the tradeoff equation: what am I giving up, and what am I getting in return?

Then there’s a whole new connected generation growing up. That’s a big part of what Harley-Davidson is doing. Through new services, capabilities and bikes, they plan to really expand the rider base for the next generation.

Damodaran: It’s a very urban generation, which has interesting implications for smart bikes, and for two-wheel mobility in general. With the rise of urbanization and congestion that comes with it, compact shared mobility is becoming a thing. In developing markets, we’ve already seen a proliferation of shared motorbikes and e-hailing bike taxis.

As congestion grows, so does the popularity of two-wheeled transit.
Photo by Artem Beliaikin | Unsplash

Kerimov: And you have to be able to integrate all these services, vehicles and cities, and integrate them seamlessly, simultaneously, globally. That’s all happening in the cloud.

Stone: It’s also where the business transformation is happening, in and through the cloud.

Once you have connected vehicles and apps feeding them, that starts to touch so many of the OEMs’ business processes. Now you’re handling service calls differently. You’re launching and servicing subscription and loyalty programs. You need a more robust dealer structure that can sell and service connected offerings. Connectedness starts to change everything.

Kerimov: Connectedness really transforms the entire OEM ecosystem: dealers, yes, plus traditional suppliers, tech and IoT providers, software and platform providers, the cloud networks knitting them together.

Damodaran: Then there’s the global implications. In Europe, it’s very specific what you’re allowed to do with data. China and India and Japan and so on—everyone has their own regulations. Fortunately, the hybrid cloud offers the adaptability to operate in any of these geographies with relative ease.

The future of mobility has changed over the years.
Image by Bruce McCall | Zany Afternoons

Kerimov: The future this all enables really is amazing. What’s the biggest thing on the horizon, maybe a little sci-fi-seeming, that has you most excited?

Stone: I’m really excited about car sharing. I want a different vehicle when I drive to work and the airport versus on the weekend. It’s back-to-school time, maybe you want a pick-up to get your kid to campus with all their stuff.

And I’d love the option to be able to pay as I go. What about you, Binoy? What’s the big thing in bikes, besides flying ones?

Damodaran: Well, some companies are working on aerial solutions. But more immediately, we’re going to see a proliferation of bike-like things. We’re already seeing it with scooters and e-bikes. And then we get into autonomous two- and three-wheelers.

It’s only a matter of time before you get into a little pod and go.