Karolina Chachulska

How MARTY is drifting us one step closer to the future

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Who is MARTY?

A self-driving DeLorean that Drifts! This is not another scene from the classic movie, Back to the Future. This is a real project that the Stanford University team along with Renovo, a Silicon Valley based all-electric car producer, just accomplished.

MARTY, which stands for Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control, was introduced on October 20, 2015 during a Revs Center and Cars event, Going Sideways to Move Forward. Interestingly, this presentation took place exactly on the eve of the iconic day when Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown “landed in the future”.

The team of students led by Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Revs Center, has transformed a classic DeLorean (bought on craigslist 2 years prior) into a self-driving and more interestingly, a self-drifting vehicle! The idea of self-drifting cars, though undisputedly very cool, may seem a bit controversial the first sight. However, the scientific research behind it is absolutely genuine. The team working on MARTY explores the possibilities of avoiding obstacles in extreme situations when simple smashing on the brakes is not enough to prevent a collision. The team of researchers believes that providing the autonomous vehicle the ability to sacrifice stability but not controllability can lead to significant improvements in safety on the road.

So far MARTY mastered the ability to make “donuts”, which means it can drift in a circle around an obstacle. This translates to the ability to control itself with precision in an extreme situation. You can watch it in the below video:

How does MARTY work?

As you can see in the video, the research team did not equip MARTY with a LIDAR (a laser radar that Google Cars use to detect obstacles). This is because MARTY is not going to be used and tested as a self-driving car on public roads. MARTY was brought to life to explore the vehicle’s steering limits during extreme maneuvers.  Professor Gerdes and his team are planning to take MARTY to a real race track where the team can observe more drifting cars and “teach” MARTY new steering techniques.

MARTY is an all-electric car. It is steered by wire, replacing traditional mechanical linkages between the steering wheel and the tires with an electric one. This drastically improved performance of the previously understeering DeLorean.

During the Revs Center and Cars event, the Stanford team underlined the significance of the support they received from their business sponsor and partner, Renovo. The company is currently working on a Renovo Coupe, which beautifully combines a classical vibe with modern technology.

Car from the future?

In August 2015 I had a chance to hear Andy Palmer, CEO of Aston Martin say, “Frankly speaking, we might be the last car company in the world that adopts autonomous driving, we might be the first car company in the world that adopts autonomous drift button”. Back then the whole audience burst into laughter. Well, what I saw at Going Sideways to Move Forward made me really change my mind about the capabilities of the future cars. It looks like to keep us safe and sound, vehicles will be able to perform dangerous maneuvers that are currently reserved only for professional drivers, and this future can happen sooner than we think.

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