Nicole Chan: Smooth Steering Control of an Autonomous Ground Vehicle

UA 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? Nicole Chan can.

As part of a prestigious National Science Foundation program, she spent 10 weeks with nine other college students from across the country helping advance the University of Arizona’s CAT vehicle, or cognitive and autonomous test vehicle. The NSF program, Research Experiences for Undergraduates, provides opportunities for undergraduates to work with faculty mentors and graduate students at universities throughout the United States. Chan was one of only two UA students who found just what they were looking for right at home.

“I had access to some of the world’s coolest and upcoming technology,” she said.

The idea of self-driving cars has been around for a long time, but autonomous cars are just beginning to hit the road, and safety and comfort are still big concerns, said Chan. So she and her project teammates worked on designing controllers to adjust the car’s speed and improve steering control for smoother turning.

“It was very rewarding when things started to click in my mind,” she said.

Jonathan Sprinkle, a UA professor in electrical and computer engineering and recent NSF Career Award winner who led the 2013 University of Arizona REU program, stressed that the program opened up a world to which many undergraduate students do not have access.

“Students leave here knowing what research is and how interested they are in doing research,” he said.

Whether or not Chan chooses to pursue a research path, she is sure of one thing.

“With research, you get to be a part of the innovation. You get to help decide what our future will look like,” she said.


To view a video about Nicole Chan’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