Great Scott! Stanford Engineers Build Autonomous, Electric DeLorean

21 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Great Scott! Stanford Engineers Build Autonomous, Electric DeLorean.

Eat your heart out, Tesla: Engineers at Stanford University turned a 1981 DeLorean into a high-tech, autonomous electric vehicle that does doughnuts and drifts reminiscent of a scene from the Fast and Furious franchise. “We want to design automated vehicles that can take any action necessary to avoid an accident,” said Stanford professor Chris Gerdes, who is leading the work. “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.” Last night, a group of Stanford researchers unveiled the university’s latest self-driving vehicle, only at first glance this one looked more retro than the autonomous car of the future.In case you weren’t aware today is officially Back to the Future day, Marty McFly had traveled to October 21st in the popular franchise and many are commemorating this in their own unique ways. On the eve of this day Stanford University’s automotive lab rolled out MARTY, it’s a self-driving electric car that they’ve built which has amazing drift skills.

Short for Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control, the car is more than a proving ground for researching the physical limits of autonomous driving. While some of Stanford’s previous autonomous prototypes have been testbeds for avoiding objects on everyday roads or determining the time it takes for a human to take over control of a car, Marty the DeLorean is built to drift like a professional race car driver — even better than a race car driver — in an attempt to show how autonomous vehicles could handle control and stabilization in hairy, real-life situations. Achieving that goal may have been easier with a more modern vehicle, though: the team in Stanford’s Revs Lab have had to modify the car heavily just to get it driving well.

The team behind it explains that the reason they wanted to show that a self-driving car can drift was to advance exploration into how autonomous cars and push the limits of handling. Because this is an experiment in handling rather than situational awareness, the car isn’t loaded with the kinds of sensors that most autonomous cars feature, like LIDAR or 3D cameras. Built in collaboration with Renovo Motors, the revamped DeLorean sports an electric motor and a dial that switches to “autonomous.” It also comes with Renovo’s electric supercar technology, allowing the precise control to drift. “The sublime awesomeness of riding in a DeLorean that does perfect, smoke-filled doughnuts by itself is a mind-bending experience that helps you appreciate that we really are living in the future,” Jonathan Goh, a mechanical engineering grad student in Gerdes’ Dynamic Design Lab (DDL) told the Stanford press.

But the last time, back in 2008, the team ran into problems with the motors of the car they were working on. “We weren’t able to control them fast enough or communicate with them,” he said. Led by Goh, the MARTY team included several other students, including Shannon McClintock, Phill Giliver, Wyles Vance, and Arni Lehto, as well as graduate students Mike Carter and Tushar Goel. Most people have no idea how to do that, but there’s no reason a computer can’t be programmed to do that if it is the best way out of a dangerous spot. Renovo provided the drivetrain and transmission for the DeLorean, so that the Stanford team could focus on things like the power steering and the automated driving software.

For one, Stanford has a history of working with major automakers — and in this case, it didn’t want to step on any toes by choosing one over another. It also helps that the automaker’s defunct, so there’s no one to complain about researchers associating the brand with felonious behavior in a parking lot. Developing the software was straightforward and builds on Stanford’s voluminous research in this space. “The car’s been really well behaved from the beginning,” Gerdes says. On the master’s student’s first day on the Revs team, she realized during a trip to a fast food joint that the car’s ground clearance was so low that she couldn’t reach the drive-thru window. The team had to make a few improvements to the car before hooning it, much like you’d have to repair the foundation of an old house before renovating the place.

It’s a horrendously understeering vehicle, so it’s hard to hold a drift because the front end just keep losing grip.” The team made a long list of mods, including a new power steering motor, steering rack, and custom steer-by-wire system.

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