Destinee Batson: Autonomous Cars for High-School Students

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

College students across the country have rounded the halfway point of the fall 2014 semester and settled in for the push to the finish. Thanks to a UA College of Engineering summer research program focused on driverless car technology, Northeastern University sophomore Destinee Batson had a head start this semester expanding her skill set. 

As part of a National Science Foundation program, Batson and seven other college students, working in teams of two or three, spent 10 weeks helping advance the University of Arizona’s CAT vehicle, or cognitive and autonomous test vehicle. 

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. 

Batson, who is majoring in electrical and computer engineering, came into the 2014 University of Arizona REU program with no previous experience in autonomous vehicle technology. 

“Participating in this REU program exposed me to more aspects of computer science, which I hadn’t had an interest in before. Now I am considering it as a minor,” she said.

She returned to Northeastern having developed a framework for high school students to conduct experiments with the CAT vehicle. High school students will be involved in the next phase of research as part of the project’s outreach component. The framework will give high school students the ability to safely apply to the CAT vehicle’s system computer code they will write themselves.

“Our system creates an interactive way to involve high school students with the operation of an autonomous vehicle in a given obstacle course. Students can feed their computations into a set of commands to follow a certain course,” Batson said.

Including high school students in the research will give them experience in addressing global engineering challenges, said the project’s lead investigator, Jonathan Sprinkle, an NSF Career Award winner and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.


For more on the UA CAT vehicle program, visit

To learn about the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, visit

Associate professor Jonathan Sprinkle, University of Arizona College of Engineering

Destinee Batson, Northeastern University