After months of anticipation, we have finally reached one of the holiest days in the pop culture calendar: October 21, 2015, the date Marty McFly and Doc Brown time-traveled to from 1985 in Back to the Future II.
To celebrate the occasion, Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, just unveiled a genuinely futuristic riff on the DeLorean DMC-12 made famous by the franchise. The car, dubbed MARTY (Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control), has had its gasoline engine and manual control system swapped out for an electric motor and autonomous, self-driving software.
MARTY is designed to test out the performance of self-driving cars in extreme situations, particular handling the car while when it drifts around tight corner or obstacles. "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," Gerdes said in a statement.
Obviously, this resulted in Gerdes and his team revving up the car for a test run. Behold, the perfect doughnuts of a drifting, autonomous, electric DeLorean, performed in the name of science.
MARTY in action. Video: Stanford/YouTube
The car's electric engine and self-driving software may not be quite as scintillating as a Flux Capacitor or a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor, but I think Doc and Marty could make very good use of them all the same.
After all, an autonomous car can't get goaded into drag races due to some weird pathological sensitivity to the word "chicken," nor would it barrel headlong over a cliff into a ravine. In fact, when you think about it, a lot of problems faced by Back to the Future characters would have been solved by a self-driving platform. Biff Tannen, for one, would never have to worry about his worrisome proclivity for crashing into manure trucks.
That aside, MARTY is also a great example of the real next-generation technology in development today, which stands up surprisingly well to the franchise's wacky take on October 21, 2015. As Stanford engineer and MARTY test driver Jonathan Goh said, "the sublime awesomeness of riding in a DeLorean that does perfect, smoke-filled doughnuts by itself is a mind-bending experience that helps you appreciate that we really are living in the future."