A Toyota Supra that drifts without a driver, for safer cars

A Toyota Supra that drifts without a driver, for safer cars

A Toyota Supra that drifts without a driver

Researchers from TRI, the Toyota Research Institute, have created a self-driving Supra that can drift autonomously, dodging obstacles positioned along a track. The goal of Toyota's research team is to refine autonomous driving systems to the point of making them even safer than human driving in very specific and dangerous cases, such as when encountering ice on the road or facing obstacles. suddenly.

“Here at the Toyota Research Institute we have set ourselves the goal of using the most advanced technologies available to amplify and improve human capabilities, not to completely replace them. Thanks to this project we are improving the way in which the car is controlled, in order to give any driver the opportunity to develop the same reflexes as a professional driver, so that they can manage dangerous situations with greater safety. " Avinash Balachandran, Senior Manager of the TRI research group who is working on the autonomous driving system, said.

Every year in the United States the deaths on the roads are almost 40,000, while all over the world this figure is about 1.35 million people: accidents are often trivial or inevitable even with an extreme maneuver, but there is a small part of collisions that would be avoidable with particular and extreme maneuvers, which often cannot be performed by a normal driver.

The software is programmed taking inspiration from the driving style of professional drivers put to the test by particularly difficult conditions, where it is necessary to drift to avoid obstacles. Thanks to this information, researchers at the Toyota Research Institute were able to program the Toyota Supra to see and identify obstacles in order to drift in a controlled manner to avoid them. The NMPC - Nonlinear Model Predictive Control software allows the car to calculate a new trajectory in 1/20 of a second, thus ensuring a practically instant reaction from the car.

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Toyota Manages To Drift Driverless Supra On Racetrack


In recent years, autonomous driving has come leaps and bounds to a point where getting from point A to B is possible with little to no driver input, something that can get a bit boring on long journeys. Well then, how about an autonomous car that can do sideways action without your inputs? The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) has successfully done just that on a souped-up Supra!  

The experiment was conducted at Thunderhill Raceway in California, USA on the 3.21km ‘West’ track. The Supra had a ton of modifications onboard, including a computer-controlled steering, throttle, clutch, sequential transmission and individual wheel braking setup. The vehicle state information was sourced from a dual-antenna RTK-GNSS-aided INS system at a rate of 250Hz.

Toyota used technology called Nonlinear Model Predictive Control (NMPC) which essentially is a control scheme that extends the vehicle’s operational domain beyond a traditional loop stability program to allow controllable drifts. The NMPC controller runs on an x86 computer. 

Aside from modifications related to autonomous driving, the Supra’s suspension, engine, transmission, chassis and safety systems (roll cage, fire suppression) were tricked out to a similar setup as the race cars used in Formula Drift competitions. Of course, there was professional drift driver Ken Gushi sitting behind the wheel, and all he needed to do to activate autonomous mode was to use the ‘engage’ button on the centre console.

The entire purpose of this experiment was to test out how a car can autonomously detect obstacles and drift their way around them on a closed race track. It can also help maintain control on slippery surfaces such as wet or icy roads.


Sure, having autonomous drifting, let alone fully autonomous vehicles, is still a long way away, but a driverless drifting machine should help quash the myth that driverless journeys are boring. Don’t believe it? Here’s the Supra drifting its way around Thunderhill Raceway in the video below:


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