Researchers from Stanford University built an electric, self-driving DeLorean that is capable of drifting and doing donuts, which might be enough to take away the mantle of coolest DeLorean ever from Doc Brown's time machine of Back To The Future fame.
The car is, of course, named MARTY, short for Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control, a nod to Michael J. Fox's iconic character from the time-traveling movie franchise.
The researchers, which are from the car-focused Revs Center of Stanford, made the DeLorean autonomous, but decided not to make it into a vehicle that takes its passengers on cruises around suburban roads. Instead, the researchers made the car into a drifting machine.
"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," said Chris Gerdes, Revs Center director and mechanical engineering professor, citing it as a legitimate reason for creating the self-driving, drifting DeLorean.
The researchers drew inspiration from rally car drivers, who often sacrifice stability for speed and control by drifting through corners instead of taking normal turns. Even through the car is sliding through a corner, rally car drivers can make the vehicle do exactly what they want it to do.
Most people do not know how to pull off such a move, but a computer on a self-driving car should know to drift if that is the best option in keeping the vehicle and its passengers safe from a potentially dangerous situation. This is the reason why the Revs Center researchers believe that self-driving cars should be programmed with the ability to drift.
The project was started in May 2013 with the purchase of a DeLorean for $22,000.
"It's a car that says science project," said Gerdes, with its association to the Back To The Future franchise giving it a futuristic vibe. It also helps that the car company is defunct, so there would be no complaints about researchers associating the car brand with drifting activities.
Currently, Stanford's DeLorean can pull off fairly perfect drifts in circles, or donuts, according to project leader Jon Goh, a Ph.D. student. This meets the first objective of the project, and that is to prove that self-driving vehicles can control themselves even while in an unstable situation.
"We want to demonstrate autonomous cars have mastery over all types of driving," said Goh, and Stanford's self-driving, drifting DeLorean is doing just that.