Stanford’s self-driving DeLorean can now drift around complex obstacle courses

Its creators hope the car’s tech will be used for more research in the future.

Jonathan Goh via Stanford News

Would the DeLorean have survived the Back to the Future series if it had been able to drive itself off those train tracks? Researchers at Stanford University’s Dynamic Design Lab seem to think so — they’ve developed the world’s first autonomous DeLorean. And it can even drift around a racetrack like a pro.

The DeLorean — which has been nicknamed MARTY — debuted four years ago. Since then, its creators have been preparing the car for increasingly complicated driving maneuvers.

Okay, but how does it do that? — The self-driving DeLorean was built to be an autonomous anomaly. The vehicle was built with custom suspension and powerful, electronically controlled breaks, and it has an onboard GPS (it can track the vehicle’s location within an inch!) so its creators can program complicated driving maneuvers.

Impressive friction — The DeLorean’s intense maneuvering abilities aren’t just for show, either. According to lead project engineer Chris Gerdes, MARTY was built with emergencies in mind. Where many autonomous cars are developed to drive in the simplest of conditions, MARTY is made for handling on slippery or otherwise dangerous roadways.

Jonathan Goh via Stanford News

“We’d like to develop automated vehicles that can use all of the friction between the tire and the road to get the car out of harm’s way,” Gerdes stated. “We want the car to be able to avoid any accident that’s avoidable within the laws of physics.”

This isn’t the end for MARTY — The controller design behind the DeLorean’s inner workings is open-access, and the team hopes it will be used by other researchers to repeat the approach. The team is also working on papers detailing the techniques used to develop the car’s full steering range. They’re also still experimenting with how incorporating front and rear breaks could open up even more capabilities for the vehicle.