UT student makes advances involving autonomous vehicles, traffic stimulation

Jourden Sander

Dustin Carlino takes the term smart car to a whole new level.

Carlino, a computer science senior, currently works on “Approximately Orchestrated Routing and Transportation Analyzer” or AORTA, which simulates vehicles moving through a city. With this program, Carlino hopes to control the future wave of autonomous vehicles that will slowly be introduced to the public. 

This research caught the attention of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which will award Carlino a $10,000 scholarship Friday. Bob Crippen, NASA space shuttle astronaut and UT alumnus will present Carlino with the award.

“Dustin Carlino has demonstrated exceptional achievement, talent and drive, and I am proud to be recognizing him on behalf of ASF in the company of his mentors, peers and the greater UT community,” Crippen said.

Carlino admires the way Crippen crafted his career in a way that allows him to experience new aerospace technology in every context. The combination of research and industry that Crippen’s career involves is exactly what Carlino aspires to maintain in his own career, and it’s where his early interest in programming began.

“Back in the day, I was a kid with a Nintendo 64 playing an old game called Banjo-Kazooie,” Carlino said. “When my family got a PC, I discovered other fans of the game had websites dedicated to it. I got enveloped in this community, started my own dinky little site, learned a bit about programming from library books, and started writing text-based computer games.”

The interest in computer science didn’t end there. Once Carlino enrolled at UT he joined the Dean’s Scholars and Turing Scholars programs, and he realized the research he was doing was similar to what he did all through high school. Carlino joined a Freshman Research Initiative, or FRI stream, that deals with autonomous vehicles and started work on a project in traffic stimulation.

“Once most vehicles on the road are robotic, why do we need things like stop signs or traffic lights that are designed for human drivers?” Carlino said. “A project at UT called AIM started the idea of an autonomous intersection, where cars ‘call ahead’ to plan the timing of their turn. In AORTA, I’m looking at a bigger picture, where drivers might even pick their routes in some collaborative way that lessens congestion.” 

Building on this idea of vehicles “calling ahead” in an autonomous intersection, Carlino is presenting his next big idea — running auctions to pick the order in which drivers move through intersections — at the Intelligent Transportation Systems Conference in The Hague, Netherlands.

“Say there’s an ambulance stuck behind a long line of traffic,” Carlino said. “It should be able to ‘call ahead’ to the intersection to tell it to make the light for its road be green. I implemented ‘intersection auctions’ in AORTA to generalize this idea to any driver.”

In addition, if a driver wanted a faster commute, the driver would pay more money than a driver on a perpendicular road trying to cross paths, and go first. 

“Humans wouldn’t have to do the bidding; your robotic car would,” Carlino said. “And this system can be regulated, so that rich people don’t make other drivers’ trips inconvenient, and so that somebody doesn’t wind up waiting too long at an intersection.”

AORTA is Carlino’s current research focus, but after graduating in May, he will work at Google in Seattle.

“I want to remain in industry for a while, because building systems at a company like Google is, quite frankly, fun,” Carlino said. “I’ve got a vested interest in autonomous vehicles, too, and since they will be marketed to the general public within my lifetime, I definitely intend to get back into that field
eventually.”