Ethan Rabb: St. Louis Washington University Student Spends Summer at the Controls of a Driverless Car

St. Louis Washington University Student Spends Summer at the Controls of a Driverless Car

Robotics enthusiast Ethan Rabb was in the passenger seat, and no one was in the driver’s seat when he got a thumb’s up from his mentor and the University of Arizona CAT vehicle started forward.

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

Rabb and his two project teammates created a hybrid bridge component that enabled two architectures -- ROS (open source architecture for robots) and JAUS (joint architecture for unmanned systems) -- used in the robotic car’s controls to communicate effectively with each another.

The result was a robotic car that made much smoother turns and code that could potentially improve the car’s ride in many ways.

“When I first took the code out to the car for testing, it did not go as well as I had hoped. But after making a few improvements, I got some amazingly good results,” said Rabb, who is studying computer science. “This project was a great success and hopefully will be useful for future research on the car.” 


To view a video about Ethan Rabb’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