We tend to think of drifting, or any wheel-spinning tomfoolery, as a crude, reckless and indulgent act when not done in the safe confines of a closed course. Yet researchers at Toyota’s Research Institute and Stanford University’s Dynamic Design Lab are hard at work testing technology that may use drifting for good — in this case, getting you and your passengers out of a sure collision.
To do this, the two teams have developed a Supra (with the appropriate modifications, of course) that can literally drift itself. It seems a little pointless on the surface until you consider that insufficient car control is often a factor in accidents.
If a car can remain composed, especially in occasions where the driver or collision avoidance system has made initial corrective action, but that action has sent the vehicle into oversteer, it could prevent collisions and save lives. And of course, the implications of such a technology will be especially significant as cars become increasingly autonomous.
Toyota and Stanford are looking to imbue modern vehicles with artificial intelligence trained on professional drivers to keep us poised behind the wheel. Stanford’s work in the field actually began more than a decade ago, using an unlikely vessel to develop its software. Per Toyota’s press release:
TRI has supported the Dynamic Design Lab’s research for many years. The current project draws upon Stanford’s published paper, “Opening New Dimensions: Vehicle Motion Planning and Control using Brakes while Drifting,” in which Stanford researchers demonstrated advanced drifting on MARTY, an electrified, automated DeLorean. Stanford’s experimental results produced a proof-of-concept architecture capable of controlling a rear-wheel drive vehicle in a drift using brakes, steering and propulsion. TRI is now applying this architecture to vehicle platforms, including the GR Supra.
Toyota has filmed a short video of the Supra in action, and you can see the car working the handbrake and steering all on its own, while a driver sits inside, just in case they’re needed. In this particular clip, though, they aren’t needed, so they hang a thumbs up out the window instead.
Beyond Stanford’s lab, the Japanese automaker is pulling insights from Toyota Racing Development, which knows a thing or two about drifting, as well as the company’s Vehicle Dynamics Control department in Japan. The latter crew will be the ones responsible for ultimately outfitting future Toyotas with the gear necessary to drift themselves. That’s kind of funny to imagine because Toyota sells exactly two cars I associate with oversteer, and one look at the camber of the front wheels on this Supra confirms it ain’t like other Toyotas.