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Great Scott! Watch a self-driving DeLorean drifting like a boss
It's Back To The Future Day! It's an autonomous DMC-12 getting sideways!
Today, you can’t have failed to notice, is Back to the Future day. If that’s elicited a regretful shrug about the lack of flying cars and commercially available hoverboards, then let us appease your disappointment.
Meet MARTY: it may be a slightly hackneyed acronym of ‘Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control’, but it’s a nice, acceptably cheesy nod to Mr McFly, on 21/10/15: the actual day in the future he visited in the time travel trilogy.
MARTY is a self-driving DeLorean which a bunch of Stanford students have taught to do glorious, unrelenting donuts.
It may look like a wonderful way to drain university finances between frat parties and beer pong, but there’s some serious stuff going on: this is self-driving cars learning how to avoid any conceivable accidents. It’s not always about simply slamming on the brakes, see.
“In our work developing autonomous driving algorithms, we’ve found that sometimes you need to sacrifice stability to turn sharply and avoid accidents,” says Stanford’s professor of mechanical engineering, Chris Gerdes. “The very best rally car drivers do this all this time, sacrificing stability so they can use all of the car’s capabilities to avoid obstacles and negotiate tight turns at speed.”
“Current control systems designed to assist a human driver, however, don’t allow this sort of manoeuvring,” he continues. “We think that it is important to open up this design space to develop fully automated cars that are as safe as possible.”
Realising that ‘safe’ often translates as ‘boring’, Gerdes and his students have turned one of the most iconic cars in film into a self-drifting fun machine and picked quite the iconic day to show it to the world.
So far it can complete continuous donuts stymied only by tortured tyres, as you can see above. But the ultimate aim is to have MARTY drifting around a track, competing with a professional driver.
“A drift competition is the perfect blend of our two most important research questions – how to control the car precisely and how to design automated vehicles that interact with humans,” says Gerdes.
“While we aren’t picturing a future where every car produces clouds of white tyre smoke during the daily commute, we do want automated vehicles that can decipher the subtle cues drivers give when driving and incorporate this feedback when planning motion. Drifting is a way to study these larger questions, with style.”
Less wary of the impending world of autonomous cars, folks?