Toyota Supra learns how to drift, all by itself


For many enthusiasts, autonomous driving represents the antithesis of everything we love about cars. However, Toyota says that autonomous driving technology isn’t necessarily out to turn your car into a living room on wheels. Instead, the carmaker sees it as a way to augment the driver — and so it has developed the world’s first autonomously drifting car.

Developed by the Toyota Research Institute, the modified Supra is modified with a GReddy wide-body kit and some very quick software. Engineers say the programming can “calculate a whole new trajectory every 20th of a second.” It was developed with the help of professional drift driver Ken Gushi.

According to Toyota, even regular drivers may face situations where the best course of action through a tricky situation, such as encountering a patch of black ice or the sudden appearance of an obstacle, might be to drift through or around it. 

“When faced with wet or slippery roads, professional drivers may choose to ‘drift’ the car through a turn, but most of us are not professional drivers,” said research scientist Jonathan Goh. “That’s why TRI is programming vehicles that can identify obstacles and autonomously drift around obstacles on a closed track.”

The Supra isn’t fully autonomous yet. It’s programmed with the layout of the track, the 2-mile ‘West’ track of Thunderhill Raceway. It also knows where the pylon “obstacles” are. However, it’s still able to perform a series of graceful drifts around the track at the car’s traction limit.

In due time, though, the research may yield a car that can make evasive maneuvers in emergency situations rather than just try to brake as hard as possible.

Or, to hear senior manager of TRI’s human-centric research Avinash Balachandran describe it, “We are expanding the region in which a car is controllable, with the goal of giving regular drivers the instinctual reflexes of a professional race car driver to be able to handle the most challenging emergencies and keep people safer on the road.”

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