Eric Westman: Smooth Steering Control of an Autonomous Ground Vehicle

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering Student Spends Summer at the Controls of a Driverless Car

Students are returning 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? Eric Westman can.

“Autonomous vehicles are innovative emerging technology that will very soon become deeply integrated in our society,” said Westman, a senior in electrical and computer engineering. “Having autonomous vehicles on the road will enable safer, more efficient travel for millions of people.”

As part of a prestigious National Science Foundation program, Westman spent 10 weeks in Tucson with nine other college students from across the nation helping advance the University of Arizona’s CAT vehicle, or cognitive and autonomous test vehicle. The program, Research Experiences for Undergraduates, provides opportunities for undergraduates to work with faculty mentors and graduate students at universities throughout the United States.

“The students leave here knowing what research is and how interested they are in doing research,” said UA electrical and computer engineering professor Jonathan Sprinkle, a recent NSF Career Award winner, who led the 2013 University of Arizona REU program.

One of the biggest challenges for autonomous vehicles is steering control. It is usually a bumpy and uncomfortable drive because the steering in robotic cars is constantly making rapid adjustments to stay on the desired path, explained Westman. So he and his project teammates explored ways to improve steering controllers for a smoother ride. In the process, he was surprised at what he learned about research.

“I never thought that such a narrow field of research like steering control would be so rich and full of exciting, unanswered questions,” he said. “Because autonomous vehicles have the potential to make such a positive impact on our world, it is important that we continue to ask these challenging questions and get out hands dirty digging for the answers.” 


To view a video about Eric Westman’s REU experience, visit

For more on the UA CAT vehicle program, visit

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


Professor Jonathan Sprinkle, University of Arizona College of Engineering