University of Oregon Student Spends Summer at the Controls of a Driverless Car

Every Fall, students return to class with stories to tell about what they did over summer break. But how many can say they spent the summer at the controls of a driverless car? University of Oregon student Elizabeth Olson can.

Thanks to a University of Arizona College of Engineering 10-week summer research program focused on driverless car technology, Olson and 11 other college students helped to advance the UA CAT vehicle, or cognitive and autonomous test vehicle. Olson worked on developing code that controls the CAT vehicle through a smart phone.

“This summer, I conducted fascinating research I did not know I was capable of,” Olson said.

The NSF program, Research Experiences for Undergraduates, or REU, provides opportunities for undergraduates to work with faculty mentors and graduate students on exciting research projects at universities throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

Olson came into the program having little knowledge about autonomous systems, she says, but left with knowledge about how far autonomous vehicle research has come -- as well as contributing to that research herself. University of Arizona electrical and computer engineering professor Jonathan Sprinkle, an NSF CAREER Award winner who led the 2015 University of Arizona REU program, said the program was a good way to introduce students to research and graduate school.

“The program showed me more avenues that I can pursue for my career,” Olson said. “Most of them require more than a bachelor’s degree, so the program made me think more seriously about graduate school.”

For more on the UA CAT vehicle program, visit, and to learn about the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, visit