Watch Stanford's Self-Drifting Electric DeLorean Shred Some Doughnuts

If you’re going to build a autonomous electric car, why not do it with some style?
July 9, 2018, 8:24pm
Image: David Bush

The DeLorean DMC-12 earned a sweet spot in cinematic history as Doc Brown’s time machine in the Back to the Future trilogy, and now Stanford University’s Dynamic Design Laboratory has revived the legacy of this iconic car with a new self-driving electric model that’s built to drift.

Behold, the Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control (MARTY), which shreds up a track in this new video released on Monday:

Developed by Stanford professor of mechanical engineering Chris Gerdes and operated primarily by engineering student Jonathan Goh, MARTY is a 1981 DeLorean with a 21st century makeover—Gerdes and his students swapped out its gasoline engine with an a modified electric supercar system made by Renovo Motors.

For academic purposes, MARTY is designed to road-test autonomous vehicle software that could mitigate the risk of accidents in extreme situations, such as swerving around obstacles or maintaining control during skids. For recreational purposes, however, it’s also a great excuse to carve out the track with its signature maneuver—”a continuous, precisely circular doughnut at a large drift angle,” according to lab’s website.

Advertisement

Drifting gives researchers a unique opportunity to study and test precise control and anticipate how cars respond to human operators. One of the team’s goals is to have the car drift alongside a professional driver in a competition.

“While we aren’t picturing a future where every car produces clouds of white tire 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,” Gerdes said in a statement. “Drifting is a way to study these larger questions, with style.”

Read More: How Self-Driving Car Policy Will Determine Life, Death and Everything In-Between

Though it lacks a flux capacitor, the car gets bonus movie points for the figure-eight circuits featured in the new footage, as the DeLorean from the BTTF movies must reach 88 miles per hour in order to travel through time.

While MARTY is great at carving out loops on its test roads, it is fortunately not in danger of creating the kinds of messy causal loop paradoxes featured in the trilogy—at least, not yet.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.