Toyota’s self-drifting Supra has drifted itself around some obstacles

By topgear, 04 February 2022

Formula Drift-spec Supra is a safety research car, not a future theme-park attraction

It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a slammed, roll-caged and tuned Toyota Supra, to treat every self-driving issue as though it were a drift course.

And with that analogy holding about as well as this modified Supra does its tyre rubber, we present Toyota’s latest research into self-driving: a Supra that’ll slide all by itself.

It’s but the work of quite a few moments, because we first saw this AutonoDrifter last year. Built by the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) in conjunction with Stanford University, and with a little help from GReddy and professional drifter Ken Gushi, the goal was to improve road-car safety.

TRI’s theory is that if a self-driving car has the skills of, well, a Gushi, then it can “amplify and augment a regular driver’s ability to respond to dangerous and extreme situations, helping keep people safe on the road”. Makes perfect sense, no?

“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 TRI’s Jonathan Goh. “That’s why TRI is programming vehicles that can identify obstacles and autonomously drift around obstacles on a closed track.” (Sshh, nobody tell The Stig.)

This test was performed in the full safety of the Thunderhill Raceway. TRI said the car’s brain is running a ‘Nonlinear Model Predictive Control’, while the mechanicals – suspension, engine, gearbox, chassis and safety – mirror that of a Formula Drift car.

Because if the only tool you have is a slammed, roll-caged and tuned Toyota Supra…