"The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?"
Apparently Doc Brown's logic also applies to building an electric-powered autonomous car. Stanford University engineering students, along with the Revs Program at Stanford and electric car specialists Renovo Motors, built their stunt-driving autonomous car using a 1981 DeLorean to prove that computers can execute lurid, tire-smoking drifts like stunt hero Ken Block.
Computer systems already control all new cars, as their electronic stability control system detects when the car starts to slide and clamps on the brakes to bring it back under control. But rally racers and stunt drivers know there are advantages to sliding the car on purpose in some situations.
It is this capability Stanford's engineers aimed to unlock when they built MARTY, the Multiple Actuator Research Test vehicle, using the Back to the Future car as a foundation.
"When you watch a pro driver drift a car, you think to yourself that this person really knows how to precisely control the path and angle of the car, despite how different it is from normal driving," said mechanical engineering graduate student Jonathan Goh. "The wheels are pointed to the left even though the car is turning right, and you have to very quickly coordinate the throttle and steering in order to keep the car from spinning out or going the wrong way. Autonomous cars need to learn from this in order to truly be as good as the best drivers out there."
The idea is that in an emergency situation, the autonomous car might need to slide the car on purpose to avoid hitting an obstacle. With that kind of ability, Marty McFly might have successfully avoided hitting farmer Peabody's barn upon his arrival in 1955.
Photos by Stanford University