It’s likely you’re getting sick of all the Back to the Future-related content today, but I promise you that this one is a little different, since the chunk of electronics added to a DeLorean is real and actually works. Even better, it really does make this 2015 feel like an imagined future 2015, and most importantly, it involves donuts.

Stanford University has been a pioneer of autonomous vehicle research, with their autonomous VW Touareg named Stanley being the first self-driving vehicle to win the DARPA Grand Challenge back in 2005. Since then, a lot of progress has been made, to the point where Stanford can now take an ‘81 DeLorean and make it into a self-drifting, automatic tire-smoking machine.

They’re calling the DeLorean MARTY (Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control), just to maximize all the BTTF references, and the point of the car is to develop autonomous vehicles that can work even when shit gets real.

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Or, as they put it:

“We want to design automated vehicles that can take any action necessary to avoid an accident,” Gerdes said. “The laws of physics will limit what the car can do, but we think the software should be capable of any possible maneuver within those limits.”

They also have a nice video that shows the removal of the DeLorean’s original Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 boat anchor and replacing it with an electric motor, and then lots of nice DeLorean-bot drifting footage:

They’re not fooling anyone with all that safer-autonomous cars crap. We know this is all about building an army of robot drift cars to take over the world with tire smoke and... some other parts of some plan. Still, their justifications do sound good:

“In our work developing autonomous driving algorithms, we’ve found that sometimes you need to sacrifice stability to turn sharply and avoid accidents,” Gerdes said. “The very best rally car drivers do this all this time, sacrificing stability so they can use all of the car’s capabilities to avoid obstacles and negotiate tight turns at speed. Their confidence in their ability to control the car opens up new possibilities for the car’s motion. Current control systems designed to assist a human driver, however, don’t allow this sort of maneuvering. We think that it is important to open up this design space to develop fully automated cars that are as safe as possible.”

So, autonomous cars are going to learn to drive like rally drivers? Maybe the future will be more fun than I thought.


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.