A Self-Driving Electric DeLorean can Now Drift Through a Racetrack

The DeLorean has had quite a history in the world of technology. Featuring in the 80s classic Back to the Future, the car was far more popular as a movie prop than it was as a production vehicle. The latest innovation in self-driving technology has seen the DeLorean once again in headlines. Researchers at Stanford have successfully trained an electric DeLorean to drift through a racecourse all by itself.

Smart Driving Technology

The prototype used by the engineers was cleverly called MARTY, hearkening back to one of the movie’s main characters. MARTY is a 1981 DeLorean with a plethora of bells and whistles added on to give it a sense of what’s around it. It uses custom suspension and larger brakes than the stock version of the 1981 DeLorean. It also has a series of onboard computers and GPS systems that keep it aware of the surroundings and its final destination. The engineers first got the car to drift on its own four years ago, but since then to now, the team has managed to teach the vehicle how to navigate a course solely through drifting.

Drifting Through a Kilometer of Track

The team built a kilometer-long obstacle-littered track (termed MARTYkhana) to test the DeLorean’s ability. They weren’t disappointed, as MARTY managed to navigate the course flawlessly, not even relying once on the two passengers that were present in case the car needed some human aid. While MARTY wasn’t timed while doing the course, it demonstrated extreme precision in applying brakes, accelerating, and turning.

The goal of building MARTY was to demonstrate that self-driving tech can handle potentially hazardous situations like slippery roads. By understanding the principle of drifting, the AI systems on self-driving cars can utilize the friction between tires and the road’s surface to get the car out of potentially dangerous situations. Drifting simulates extreme driving physics, allowing the AI to derive information from unlikely scenarios so that it can apply that knowledge in real-world situations as they arise. While we won’t be seeing self-driving electric DeLoreans in timed obstacle course events anytime soon, the tech to avoid skids and spills may make its way into self-driving vehicles before we know it.