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Renovo Motors and Stanford transform vintage 1981 DeLorean into self-driving car

Published: October 22, 2015 | California

Stanford and Renovo Motors, the team unveiled the latest edition to Stanford’s research fleet. Nicknamed MARTY – short for Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control – the car is already proving to be an excellent vehicle for student-driven research.

Eventually, the car will be taught to race around a track utilizing this drifting technique to negotiate tight turns around obstacles when required. Already the car can autonomously lock itself into a continuous, precisely circular donut at a large drift angle, a significant feat of controls engineering. This is the first step on the path to a self-driving car that can deal with even the most extreme of situations.


MARTY was built in collaboration with Renovo Motors, an automotive start-up based in Silicon Valley that specializes in building advanced electric vehicle technology. Working closely together gave the Stanford team early access to a brand new platform derived from Renovo’s electric supercar that delivers 4,000 pound-feet from on-motor gearboxes to the rear wheels in a fraction of a second – allowing precise control of the forces required to drift.

Because the systems are all managed by a central API, the integration process was very rapid and Goh and his colleagues were able to get the car back on the road just a few months after pulling the original gasoline engine. Building off of the Renovo platform enabled the Stanford team to focus their development on subsystems and algorithms most important to the research goals.

Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering, when he and his students at Stanford decided to transform a vintage 1981 DeLorean into their newest high-performance test bed for researching the physical limits of autonomous driving.

While Goh has been the primary student in charge of getting MARTY up and running, several other students have since joined the project. Shannon McClintock MS ’15 was instrumental in disassembling and upgrading the DeLorean’s frame and suspension, while Phill Giliver ’17 designed a roll cage to greatly improve the safety and torsional rigidity. Wyles Vance MS ’14 and Arni Lehto MS ’14 designed and welded frame upgrades for the car. Mike Carter and Tushar Goel, both graduate students, recently joined the project and have helped design and build upgraded steering systems. The hard drifts these students execute during research literally chew up tires, but Bridgestone has offered to provide fresh tires throughout the project.

One of Gerdes’ ultimate goals for MARTY is to drift alongside another car steered by a professional driver. This is common in motorsport competitions, where one driver tries to best the other’s maneuvers, all while anticipating each other’s movements to avoid collisions. To Gerdes, the challenges of drifting have many parallels in developing robust automated vehicles for everyday driving.

Source: Renovo Motors


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