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Stanford and Renovo Motors Built an Electric, Self-Driving DeLorean

It's called MARTY, naturally.

Stanford University

Great Scott! Engineers at the Revs Program at Stanford have done what nerds have dreamt of doing since 1985. They build a robot DeLorean.

Teaming with the electric car startup Renovo Motors, the university students tore down a vintage 1981 model, reconstructing it to run on electricity and drive itself. The creators showcased their car at Stanford on Tuesday, the eve of the day Marty McFly time-travels to in the “Back to the Future” film franchise.

Stanford calls the car the Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw. Or MARTY.

The self-driving software is similar to that from Google and from Tesla. But the Stanford crew is focused primarily on training autonomous cars to handle the most extreme driving situations with aplomb. It uses GPS mapping, not radar or cameras like Google, so it isn’t equipped to hit the roads alone yet. However, the engineers trained the DeLorean to drift — like pro drivers do — so the steering and throttle can work in tandem to navigate potentially dicey situations.

“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, one of the Stanford engineers, said in a statement that is too good not to include.

Renovo Motors, a startup that builds electric vehicle software and cars, built the platform and components underneath the Stanford autonomous system. Theoretically, the car can generate up to 500 horsepower, although it will probably stick around the 200 range, Renovo CEO Christopher Heiser said onstage. “It’s kind of ridiculous,” he added.

After the DeLorean, the best part of the night, in this reporter’s opinion, was the crowd. Among the engineering students and car geeks were a handful of Apple employees. When approached, they flipped into Apple-speak. They were on hand simply “for viewing,” one employee told me. No comment.

I digress. Here’s a video of the DeLorean in mind-bending action.

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