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Students transform SUV into self-driving car

(Stocksnap Photo)

It’s show and tell time on Tuesday morning for students from around the country who have transformed a Ford Escape into a self-driving car as part of the University of Arizona’s Cognitive and Autonomous Test.

The students from Seattle University, Monmouth College, Lipscomb University and Western Colorado State University are participating in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. It gives students from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to do research at major U.S. universities.

University of Arizona Associate Professor Jonathan Sprinkle says that all of the students are pretty bright.

“They’re all Computer Science or Electrical Engineering majors, or some similar discipline,” he said. “They have a background in software, but they don’t necessarily have a background in the things that people typically associate with robotics.”

They’ve spent the summer getting that background by transforming the car, and they’re demonstrating what the car can do Tuesday morning.

“The car can totally drive itself. Each demonstration kind of does something different. It’s not aimed at just driving on the road with other cars, but it might be interested in something else,” Sprinkle said.

For example, the car can remain safely behind a person who is in the street.

“They’re demonstrating that by having the car follow around a person who is just walking in the parking lot, and the car follows behind them.”

The car can also determine whether another radio-equipped car that is nearby is actually telling the truth about where it is and how fast it is going.

“This will clearly be an issue as cars start getting hacked and they tell that they’re somewhere that they actually aren’t, and we won’t be able to trust our automated systems,” said Sprinkle. “This is a way to use sensors on board the vehicle to confirm where other vehicles are.”

Sprinkle said that the research the students have had to do for this project could teach them a valuable lesson.

“Learning to do research translates to success in life, regardless of the path students choose after they graduate,” he said.

The Cognitive and Autonomous Test is open to the public. The show happens from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, Aug. 9, at parking lot number 3039, next to the University of Arizona’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Building at Second Street and Palm Drive in Tucson.