Jonathan Sprinkle
Jonathan Sprinkle

CNN recently reported on a Mercedes that nearly drives itself.  It’s got auto parking, “hands off” steering that can keep the car in a designated highway lane and crash avoidance that tracks what’s ahead and slows or brakes when necessary.

And Mercedes-Benz is not alone. Versions of Cadillac, Subaru, Volvo, Acura, Audi, Jeep, Lexus and Mazda all have significant automated control features in models available this year, with more to come.

Of course, we’re still at least a decade away from being able to summon the family car from parking to your current location with an iPhone app.  But UA Prof. Jonathan Sprinkle and his team are hard at work on robotic automobiles that behave as if a human is actually at the wheel.

Several years ago, he and a colleague successfully tested a control system that can fly jet trainers. A veteran F-15 pilot said it acted like a recent flight school graduate was at the controls. One small step for robot kind. Next, an autonomous electro-mechanical machine motorist?  Robo-car?

Much of Sprinkle’s research is based on predictive control techniques, which involve combining models of various behaviors (obstacle avoidance) with real world data (cameras, laser range finders, GPS) to calculate future moves like braking, turning or acceleration.

If you want more on this fascinating subject, drive yourself to hear Prof. Sprinkle’s 3:30 p.m. talk at the Arizona Senior Academy on Wednesday (Oct. 30).

Sprinkle is a graduate of Vanderbilt University (PhD, MS) and Tennessee Technological University (BSEE). In 2013 he received the NSF CAREER award, and in 2009, he received the UA’s Ed and Joan Biggers Faculty Support Grant for work in autonomous systems.

Submitted by Stan Davis, Academy Village Volunteer

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Prof to Outline Progress in Designing Robotic Cars: Oct. 2013