Stanford engineers unveil self-driving electric DeLorean named MARTY

22 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Back to the Future Day inspires art, fundraisers, and a DeLorean in Halifax.

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) – It may not time travel, but Stanford University engineers Tuesday unveiled a DeLorean modified to be self-driving, electric, and able to drift like a pro driver was behind the wheel. Hundreds of people in downtown Halifax were gleeful when a custom-designed DeLorean was parked on Barrington Street Wednesday afternoon in honour of Back to the Future Day.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. For the past five years, Trevor MacDonald of Fall River has spent countless hours building his tribute to this day: an authentic “time-travelling” DeLorean. “I built it all myself,” he said. “The DeLorean was restored first. Then all the parts are basically years of scouring eBay and foreign sites and trying to find these obsolete parts.” Through the afternoon, MacDonald watched as crowds examined every detail of his pride and joy — from the flux capacitor (which makes time travel possible) to the hoverboard on the passenger seat.

While they actually got a lot right about technology in 2015 (down to Marty McFly’s Nike’s self-lacing sneakers), our cars are still sadly grounded. 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. This is the first step on the path to a self-driving car that can deal with extreme situations, according to Stanford officials. “The sublime awesomeness of riding in a DeLorean that does perfect, smoke-filled donuts by itself is a mind-bending experience that helps you appreciate that we really are living in the future,” Goh said in a statement. MARTY was built in partnership with Silicon Valley electric vehicle tech startup Renovo Motors, which gave the Stanford team early access to a brand new platform that allows precise control of the gearboxes and rear wheels during drifting.

According to Goh, the car’s systems are managed by a central application program interface, which allowed the integration process of replacing the original gasoline engine to happen over the course of just a few months. 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.

Gerdes and his team want to open up the maneuvering possibilities for self-driving cars, matching them to what he considers the very best drivers on the road. 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. 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. 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.

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