When a car slides on ice, you have to make many decisions quickly to avoid making things worse. You shouldn’t brake, you need to steer into the slide, but you shouldn’t oversteer. Or, and hear me out, you could let this car take over and drift out of the situation. At least, maybe someday.
Most of your time spent driving is well within the average person’s skills. Follow the road, watch out for the other drivers, and obey traffic laws. It’s relatively easy stuff that drivers are trained to handle. But it’s the rare situations that are often the most difficult to handle. When a wreck happens in front of you, or deer jumps out on the road, or you hit a patch of “black ice” without warning, the difficulty level jumps dramatically.
A professional driver with advanced skills can possibly maneuver their way out of the situations using techniques most drivers couldn’t hope to pull off. Drifting is just such a skill. Do it right, and you can slide your car through a patch of ice or around an obstacle. Do it wrong, and you’ll “drift” into the very thing you’re trying to avoid or potentially flip the vehicle. You don’t want to “learn to drift” in the heat of the moment.
But what if the car could do it for you? Researchers at Toyota are experimenting with that idea. They created a prototype Toyota Supra with autonomous driving capabilities. Then they taught it to drift on a close course. Now mind you, this isn’t an accurate representation of real-world situations. The car drove on a closed circuit; it knew exactly where every turn would be, along with the locations of all the obstacles (cones) on the path. Not to mention a Supra is very different from the cars you or I might drive.
But you should still watch the video above and marvel at the accomplishment. The Supra gracefully drifts through curves and around obstacles. Sometimes both at once, which makes the task all the more difficult. According to researchers, the car plans a new path every twentieth of a second, so it’s making decisions at an incredible speed.
We’re probably a long way off from autonomous vehicles drifting us out of a potential accident, and it might even be a hair away from never. But research like this does still suggest an exciting future for autonomous vehicles.