For folks that were around during the late ’80s and the early ’90s, the icon of the ‘future’ was a fully brushed aluminum wedge. Way before that distinction went to Tesla’s Cybertruck, the Delorean DMC12 imprinted itself into the consciousness of the masses thanks to its role as the time-traveling machine from the Back To The Future trilogy. Considering that the car is the symbol of the future, it seems appropriate then that the boffins at Stanford University’s Dynamic Design Lab have used the movie star car as the base of their latest study.
Stanford’s Dynamic Design Lab, led by Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. Jon Goh and Chris Gerdes, set out to study how autonomous vehicles can be made more precise. The end goal supposedly was to develop a program that would allow for lightning-fast reflexes and reactions to emergency situations on the fly. What better way to exhibit this than by subjecting their autonomous program to the rigorous stresses of drifting right?
Through a complete re-engineering of its chassis, powertrain, as well as programming of AI, the Dynamic Design Lab students and faculty have ultimately created a fully autonomous, all-electric, drifting Delorean. Aptly called Project MARTY (Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control), it has been four years since this same vehicle was able to do donuts with professional levels of precision. Now they’ve gone so far as being able to complete a full course - with nary a cone being hit while the car is completely sideways.
Utilizing GPS tracking via two antennae on the roof, the Delorean is able to position itself within an inch of its plotted position as it attacks the course. Everything that involves mechanical peripherals like steering, throttle, and even braking were all replaced with electronics - lending towards more accurate inputs by the AI. The underpowered V6 was also ditched for a pair of electric motors that send 7,000Nm of torque to each rear wheel, while the suspension was also completely reworked to handles the stresses of modern-day drifting as well.
To gather data on what it takes to get an autonomous vehicle running sideways continuously, Goh and his team were able to get inputs from professional drifters and shadow their movements behind the wheel. All this is eventually coded into the vehicle’s AI and, well, the results speak for themselves.
When Doc Brown and Marty McFly messed with time back then, we don’t think they’ve actually figured somebody would be bothered to create this wizardry of tech in the future.