Forget going back to the future; we are well and truly in it. A group of brainiac engineers at Stanford University just built an all-electric, self-driving drifting machine and sent it power sliding like a pro around an entire racecourse. And it wasn’t just any old car, but the undisputed star of the Back to the Future series: the iconic DeLorean.
The futuristic ride was given the moniker MARTY, which stands for Multiple Actuator Research Testbed for Yaw control and was also the name of Michael J. Fox’s character Marty McFly. MARTY was first created back in 2015 when mechanical engineering doctorate graduate Jonathan Goh and his team from Stanford’s Dynamic Design Lab converted a 1981 DeLorean into an all-electric, self-driving vehicle by adding custom suspension, bigger breaks, a full roll cage, onboard computers and a pair of GPS antennae for location tracking.
At first, MARTY was capable of doing donuts and that’s about all, but four years on he’s drifting with human-level precision. In a YouTube video shared by Stanford University, MARTY can be seen veering around a complex half-mile obstacle course—dubbed “MARTYkhana”—without toppling over a single cone. Although there were two drivers behind the wheel in case of emergency, neither one of them needed to take control at any point because MARTY turned out to be a maestro. In fact, MARTY can track a location within an inch, and calculate a drift route in seconds when given a racecourse layout.
Of course, there’s more to MARTY then mesmerizing skids. “We’re trying to develop automated vehicles that can handle a broad range of conditions; to be able to handle emergency maneuvers, to be able to handle low friction surfaces, like ice or snow or wet and slippery roads,” lead project engineer Chris Gerdes said in the video. The rational behind the experiment is logical enough: If the engineers can work out how to prepare automated cars for the most unstable scenarios, it becomes easier to create self-driving systems that can navigate in more predictable circumstances—like driving to the supermarket. Here’s to a future with more MARTYs.