VCU 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? Virginia Commonwealth University student Adam Johnson can.

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

“This less-complex approach will also provide a module for future software development of mobile devices to be used as the sensors of autonomous vehicles in the future, making the technology more accessible,” Johnson 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.

Johnson came into the program “knowing next to nothing” about autonomous vehicle technology, but he left with an increased interest in programming and a better understanding of what academic research entails.

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.

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