Engineers at Stanford turned a DeLorean into an electric, autonomous drift machine

Superimposed frames, at 0.5-second intervals, from an overhead video of a successful, fully autonomous “Figure 8” drifting experiment on MARTY. This experiment is conducted at speeds of 50km/h, and transitions through +/- 40 degrees of sideslip in about a second. (Image credit: Jonathan Goh)

For time travelling, drifting is where it’s at. A couple of engineers at Stanford with way too much time on their hands built a 1 kilometer-long course, designed to test their code on MARTY.

MARTY is the name for the DeLorean used in the test, which is obviously a credit to the main character Marty McFly from the move Back to the Future. The name is a lot less important than what’s under the covers. The 1981 DeLorean had a full EV conversion giving it plenty of power to drift.

While drifting is a skill that can take thousands of hours to master, imagine being able to get in a car and instantly experience that drifting experience.

Thanks to some clever programming from Stanfords Dynamic Design Lab, MARTY became an autonomous drift car that nailed the 1km course.

While most autonomy efforts today have focused on keeping the car between the white lines, this interesting implementation suggests we could enjoy a different kind of riding experience in the future.

The students were actually keen to explore some different techniques to avoid obstacles. The exploratory project investigates how maneuvering in non-conventional techniques (like a controlled slide) could help your car quickly dodge a pedestrian that darts into the road.

“We’re trying to develop automated vehicles that can handle emergency maneuvers or slippery surfaces like ice or snow. We’d like to develop automated vehicles that can use all of the friction between the tire and the road to get the car out of harm’s way. We want the car to be able to avoid any accident that’s avoidable within the laws of physics.”

Mechanical Engineer Chris Gerdes

Training an autonomous car to drift is a surprisingly good method for testing a car’s ability to drive evasively. Under typical conditions, a driver points the car where they want to go and uses the accelerator and brake pedals to control the speed. When drifting, whether intentionally or not, this goes out the window.

“Suddenly the car is pointed in a very different direction than where it’s going. Your steering wheel controls the speed, the throttle affects the rotation, and the brakes can impact how quickly you change directions,” Goh said. “You have to understand how to use these familiar inputs in a very different way to control the car, and most drivers just aren’t very good at handling the car when it becomes this unstable.”

Jon Goh

Nore check out the amazing MARTY in video, it looks like plenty of fun and something that could work as an ‘experience’ event, providing you can get land a tyre sponsor.

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Jason Cartwright
Jason Cartwright
Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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