A team of engineers from Stanford University decided to create a self-driving DeLorean. But unlike the autonomous cars that are designed to sedately drive in city traffic, this one’s made to drift and pull donuts.
The car — known as the Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control, or MARTY — is an experiment in how autonomous vehicles behave at the ragged edge. “We think automated vehicles should be able to execute any maneuver within the physical limits of the vehicle to get out of harm’s way,” explained Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, to Wired.
Achieving that goal may have been easier with a more modern vehicle, though: the team in Stanford’s Revs Lab have had to modify the car heavily just to get it driving well. In its initial state, it understeered at every turn. Since, they’ve added a new power steering system, coil springs, roll cage, and independent electric motors at every wheel.
Because this is an experiment in handling rather than situational awareness, the car isn’t loaded with the kinds of sensors that most autonomous cars feature, like LIDAR or 3D cameras. Instead, it just contains a lot of inertial sensors to detect movement and a simple GPS system to keep track of its position.
The results, as you can see in the video, are impressive: it pulls neat, circular donuts and drifts across the tarmac quite elegantly.