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Autonomous Systems and Controls

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Our fundamental and applied research on autonomous systems and controls aims to enable greater autonomy for explorations of land, sea, sky and space.

Our current applications of interest include robotic transportation networks, mapping and navigation in extreme environments, planning and control for agile robotic systems, air traffic management and space robotics.

We have six laboratories that perform complementary research in the broad area of autonomous systems and controls.

Collectively, these laboratories perform fundamental and applied research to expand autonomy on land and sea, and in the sky and space. They continue to contribute major advances in a variety of areas including navigation and motion planning, optimization of safety-critical systems, the control of distributed systems, and fielding the resulting technologies in practical systems.

The aggregate research portfolio in this area of these laboratories covers three major thrusts:

  • The design of robust planning and decision-making systems, which also entails developing high-dimensional deterministic or probabilistic models and corresponding analytical or state-of-the-art computational methods. Of particular interest here are advanced methodologies to control complex autonomous systems, including unmanned aircraft, autonomous spacecraft, air traffic control and other systems where decisions must be made in uncertain, dynamic environments while maintaining safety and efficiency.
  • Distributed control, with a focus on blending computer networks and physical systems. Here, research addresses the fundamental problem of how to systematically design and implement provably safe control. It also investigates enabling technologies and their bottlenecks. As such, the research here lies in the multidisciplinary intersection of feedback control theory, distributed systems and communication networks. It also includes software development that finds ways to solve various distributed control problems arising, for example, in robotic transportation and power networks.
  • Autonomous, robotic exploration in extreme environments, emphasizing the development and demonstration of key enabling technologies. Current research projects focus on demonstrating meter-level, map-relative navigation for return-to-site missions in the deep-ocean and around icebergs using autonomous underwater vehicles, and on testing space robots in microgravity environments.

The aggregate list of applications addressed by these three major research thrusts includes (in alphabetical order):

  • Aircraft collision avoidance
  • Air traffic rerouting during commercial space launches
  • Autonomous mapping and navigation in deep ocean and deep space
  • Fleet coordination of autonomous vehicles
  • Resource allocation for wireless cellular networks
  • Spacecraft motion planning
  • Unmanned aircraft traffic management