A Toyota GR Supra executing a perfectly controlled drift is nothing new, but seeing the car achieve the feat with no one at the wheel is an extraordinary spectacle – all in the pursuit of advanced safety.
Toyota Research Institute has engineered the self-driving coupe in collaboration with Stanford University’s Dynamic Design Laboratory to explore new systems that could replicate the instinctive reflexes of a professional racing driver and provide the calculated foresight of a supercomputer to avoid a crash.
The US-based engineers are researching how to combine these qualities in a new level of automated driving technology that Toyota could make available in its cars and share with other manufacturers.
Gill Pratt, TRI Chief Executive Officer and Toyota Motor Corporation Chief Scientist, said: “Every day, there are deadly vehicle crashes that result from extreme situations where most drivers would need superhuman skills to avoid a collision. The reality is that every driver has vulnerabilities and to avoid a crash, they often need to make manoeuvres that are beyond their abilities. Through this project, TRI will learn from some of the most skilled drivers in the world to develop sophisticated control algorithms that amplify human driving abilities and keep people safe.”
Toyota’s goal is zero casualties from traffic accidents. While most crashes occur in everyday driving situations, there are occasions where evasive action requires manoeuvres that take the vehicle close to, and sometimes beyond, its normal handling limits. For example, on a wet or slippery road, professional drivers may choose to “drift” the car through a bend, skilfully balancing the brakes, throttle and steering.
Professor Chris Gerdes of Stanford University’s Dynamic Design Laboratory explained: “Since 2008, our lab has taken inspiration from human race car drivers in designing algorithms that enable automated vehicles to handle the most challenging emergencies. Through this research we have the opportunity to move these ideas much closer to saving lives on the road.”
The current project draws on a published Stanford paper, Opening New Dimensions: Vehicle Motion Planning and Control Using Brakes while Driving, in which researchers demonstrated advanced driving with MARTY, an electrified and automated DeLorean car. The results of the experience produced a proof-of-concept architecture capable of controlling a rear-wheel drive vehicle in drift, using brakes, steering and propulsion.
TRI is now applying this architecture to other vehicle platforms, including GR Supra.
TRI is also engaging Toyota’s motorsports and advanced development engineering expertise. Toyota Racing Development – Toyota’s American motorsports operation, TRD USA, is providing valuable technical and experiential know-how in racing and drifting. Separately, TRI is working with Toyota Motor Corporations Vehicle Dynamics Control Team to apply the drifting architecture to future Toyota vehicles.