Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award

The Bellman Award is given for distinguished career contributions to the theory or application of automatic control. It is the highest recognition of professional achievement for US control systems engineers and scientists. The recipient must have spent a significant part of his/her career in the USA. The awardee is expected to make a short acceptance speech at the AACC Awards Ceremonies during the ACC.

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2004: Harold J. Kushner
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award

For fundamental contributions to Stochastic Systems Theory and Engineering Applications, and for inspiring generations of researchers in the field


Harold J. Kushner received the Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1958. Since then, in ten books and more than two hundred papers, he has established a substantial part of modern stochastic systems theory. These include seminal developments of stochastic stability for both Markovian and non-Markovian systems, optimal nonlinear filtering and effective algorithms for approximating optimal nonlinear filters, stochastic variational methods and the stochastic maximum principle, numerical methods for jump-diffusion type control and game problems (the current methods of choice), efficient numerical methods for Markov chain models, methods for singularly perturbed stochastic systems, an extensive development of controlled stochastic networks such as queueing/communications systems under conditions of heavy traffic, methods for the analysis and approximation of systems driven by wideband noise, large-deviation methods for control problems with small noise effects, stochastic distributed and delay systems, and nearly optimal control and filtering for non-Markovian systems.

His work on stochastic approximations and recursive algorithms has set much of the current framework, and he has contributed heavily to applications of control methods to communications problems.

He is a past Chairman of the Applied Mathematics Department and past Director of the Lefschetz Center for Dynamical Systems, at Brown University, where he is currently a University Professor Emeritus.

Text of Acceptance Speech:

July 1, 2004. Boston, MA

It is a great honor to receive this award. It is a particular honor that it is in memory of Richard Bellman. I doubt that there are many here who knew Bellman, so I would like to make some comments concerning his role in the field.

Bellman left RAND after the summer of 1965 for the position of Professor of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine at the University of Southern California. This triple title gives you some inkling of how he was viewed at the time. I spent that summer at RAND. My office was right next to Bellman's and we had lots of opportunity to talk.

Bellman was always very supportive of my work. He encouraged me to write my first book, Stochastic Stability and Control, in 1967 for his Academic Press Series. Although naive by modern standards, the book seemed to have a significant impact on subsequent development in that it made many mathematicians realize that there was serious probability to be done in stochastic control, and established the foundations of stochastic stability theory. Numerical methods were among his strong interests. He was well acquainted with my work on numerical methods for continuous time stochastic systems and encouraged me to write my first book on the subject, later updated in two books with Paul Dupuis, and still the methods of choice. Despite his enormous output of published papers, something like 900, he was a strong believer in books since they allowed one to develop a subject with considerable freedom.

There are other connections, albeit indirect, between us. He was a New Yorker, and did his early undergraduate work at CCNY. During those years and, indeed, until the late 50's, CCNY was one of the most intellectual institutions of higher learning in the US. During that time, before the middle class migration out of the city, and the simultaneous opening of opportunities in the elite institutions for the "typical New Yorker," CCNY had the choice of the best of New Yorkers with a serious intellectual bent. Later, he switched to Brooklyn College, which was much closer to his home.

He intended to be a pure mathematician: His primary interest was analytic number theory. When did he become interested in applications? He graduated college at the start of WW2 and the demands of the war exposed him to a great variety of problems. He taught electronics in Princeton and then worked at a sonar lab in San Diego (which kept him out of the Army for a while). He spent the last two years of the war in the army, but assigned to the Manhattan project at Los Alamos. He was a social creature and it was easy for him to meet many of the talented people working on the project. Typically, the physicists considered a mathematician as simply a human calculator, ideally constructed to do numerical computations but not much more. Bellman was asked to numerically solve some PDE's. His mathematical pride refused. To the great surprise of the physicists, he actually managed to integrate some of the equations, obtaining closed form solutions. Holding true to tradition, they checked his solutions, not by verifying the derivation, but by trying some very special cases. Thus his reputation there as a very bright young mathematician was established. This jealously guarded independence and self confidence (and lack of modesty) continued to serve him well. During these years, he absorbed a great variety of scientific experiences. So much was being done due to the needs of the war.

There is one more indirect connection between us. Bellman was a student of Solomon Lefschetz at Princeton, head of the Math. Dept. at the time, a very tough minded mathematician and one of the powerhouses of American mathematics, and impressed with Bellman's ability. While at Los Alamos in WW2 Bellman worked out various results on stability of ODE's. Although he initially intended to do a thesis with someone else on a number theoretic problem, Lefschetz convinced him that those stability results were the quickest way to a thesis, which was in fact true. It took only several months and was the basis of his book on stability of ODE's. I was the director of the Lefschetz Center for Dynamical Systems at Brown University for many years, with Lefschetz our patron saint. Some of you might recall the book (not the movie) "A Beautiful Mind" about John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Game Theory, which describes Lefschetz's key role in mathematics during Nash's time at Princeton.

Bellman spent the summer of 1948 at RAND, where an amazing array of talent was gathered, including David Blackwell, George Dantzig, Ted Harris, Sam Karlin, Lloyd Shapley, and many others, who provided the foundations of much of decision and game theory. The original intention was to do mathematics with some of the RAND talent on problems of prior interest. But Bellman turned out to be fascinated and partially seduced by the excitement in OR, and the developing role of mathematics in the social and biological sciences. His mathematical abilities were widely recognized. He was a tenured Associate Professor at Stanford at 28, after being an Associate Professor at Princeton, where all indications were that he would have had an assured future had he remained there. He began to have doubts about the payoff for himself in number theory and returned to the atmosphere at RAND often, where he eventually settled and became fully involved in multistage decision processes, having been completely seduced, and much to our great benefit.

Here is a non mathematical item that should be of interest. To work at RAND one needed a security clearance, even though much of the work did not involve "security." Due to an anonymous tip, Bellman lost his clearance for a while: His brother-in-law, whom Bellman had not seen since he (his brother-in-law) was about 13, was rumored to be a communist? This was an example of a serious national problem that was fed, exploited, and made into a national paranoia by unscrupulous politicians.

Bellman was a remarkable person, thoroughly a man of his time and renaissance in his interests, with a fantastic memory. Some epochs are represented by individuals that are towering because of their powerful personalities and abilities. People who could not be ignored. Bellman was one of those. He was one of the driving forces behind the great intellectual excitement of the times.

The word programming was used by the military to mean scheduling. Dantzig's linear programming was an abbreviation of "programming with linear models." Bellman has described the origin of the name "dynamic programming" as follows. An Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, who was believed to be strongly anti-mathematics was to visit RAND. So Bellman was concerned that his work on the mathematics of multi-stage decision process would be unappreciated. But "programming" was still OK, and the Air Force was concerned with rescheduling continuously due to uncertainties. Thus "dynamic programming" was chosen a politically wise descriptor. On the other hand, when I asked him the same question, he replied that he was trying to upstage Dantzig's linear programming by adding dynamic. Perhaps both motivations were true.

If one looks closely at scientific discoveries, ancient seeds often appear. Bellman did not quite invent dynamic programming, and many others contributed to its early development. It was used earlier in inventory control. Peter Dorato once showed me a (somwhat obscure) economics paper from the late thirties where something close to the principle of optimality was used. The calculus of variations had related ideas (e.g., the work of Caratheodory, the Hamilton-Jacobi equation). This led to conflicts with the calculus of variations community. But no one grasped its essence, isolated its essential features, and showed and promoted its full potential in control and operations research as well as in applications to the biological and social sciences, as did Bellman.

Bellman published many seminal works. It is sometimes claimed that many of his vast number of papers are repetitive and did not develop the ideas as far as they could have been. Despite this criticism, his works were poured over word for word, with every comment and detail mined for ideas, technique, and openings into new areas. His work was a mother lode. It was clearly the work of someone with a superb background in analysis as well as a facile mind and sharp eye for aplications. There are lots of examples, with broad coverage, accessible, and usually simple assumptions. His writing is articulate. It flows very smoothly through the problem formulation and mathematical analysis, and he is in full command of it.

We still owe a great debt to him.

2003: Kumpati S. Narendra
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award

For pioneering contributions to stability theory, adaptive and learning systems theory, and for inspiring leadership as mentor, advisor, and teacher over a period spanning four decades


Kumpati S.Narendra received the Bachelor of Engineering degree, with Honors, in Electrical Engineering from Madras University, India in 1954, and the M.S.and Ph.D.degrees in Applied Physics from Harvard University in 1955 and 1959, respectively. He was a postdoctoral fellow from 1959 to 1961, and Assistant Professor from 1961 to 1965 at Harvard. He joined the Department of Engineering and Applied Science at Yale University as an Associate Professor in 1965, and was made Professor in 1968.

Professor Narendra received an honorary from Yale in 1968, and an honorary from his alma mater in Madras, India in 1995. At Yale, he has served as the chairman of the Electrical Engineering Department (1984-87)and the director of the Neuroengineering and Neuroscience Center (1995- 96). Currently, he is the Howard W. Cheel Professor of Electrical Engineering and director of the Center for Systems Science. Professor Narendra has authored more than 175 technical papers, written three books (with co-authors J. H. Taylor, A. M. Annaswamy, and M. A. L. Thathachar), edited four others, advised 41 doctoral students and over 30 postdoctoral fellows, and consulted for more than a dozen corporate research laboratories. He has lectured at more than 40 universities worldwide and, since 1993, has delivered more than 45 plenary, keynote, and invited lectures at international conferences and research laboratories in the U. S. and abroad. He has received numerous awards, including the Education Award of the AACC (1990), the Leadership Award of the Neural Networks Society (1994), the Bode Prize of the IEEE (1995), as well as the best paper awards of three different societies of the IEEE (SMC 1972, CSS 1988, Neural Network Council 1991). He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1987), the IEE [UK ](1981), and a Life Fellow of the IEEE. He has served on various national and international and ISA awards. He is currently a fellow of the ISA,and a current or past member of the IEEE, AIChE, ACM, and MAA, and is active nationally and locally in a number of groups within these organizations.

2002: Petar V. Kokotović
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award

For pioneering contribution to control theory and engineering, and for inspirational leadership as mentor, advisor, and lecturer over a period spanning four decades


Petar V. Kokotović received graduate degrees in 1962 from the University of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and in 1965 at the Institute of Automation and Remote Control, USSR Academy of Sciences, Moscow. During his studies, he worked for two six month periods in 1956, at Electricite de France, Paris and then in 1957, at AEG, Stuttgart, Germany. From 1959 until 1966, he was with the Pupin Reseach Institute in Belgrade, Yugoslvia. From 1966 until 1990 he was with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Coordinated Sciences Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana, where he held the endowed Grainger Chair. In 1991 he joined the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he is currently the Director of the Center for Control Engineering and Computation.

In the 1960’s, Kokotović developed the sensitivity points method, a precursor to adaptive control, still in use for automatic tuning of industrial controllers. In the 1970’s, he pioneered singular perturbation techniques for multi-time-scale design of control systems and flight trajectories, which found widespread applications. One of them was a coherency aggregation methodology for large scale Markov chains and power systems. In the 1980’s, Kokotović and coworkers identified the main forms of adaptive systems instability and introduced redesigns that made adaptive controllers more robust. Kokotović’s current research is in nonlinear control, both robust and adaptive. He initiated the development of a popular nonlinear recursive design-backstepping, and its use for robust and adaptive nonlinear control. As a long-term industrial consultant, Kokotovic contributed to the design of computer controls for car engines and automotive systems at Ford, and to power system stability analysis at General Electric. Recently, he led a five-year collaborative research (with United Technologies) on nonlinear control of axial compressors for jet engines.

Professor Kokotović supervised some 30 Ph.D. students and 20 postdoctoral researchers. With them he co-authored numerous papers and ten books, four of which appeared in 1995-96. Professor Kokotović is a fellow of the IEEE and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. He is the recipient of the two highest control engineering awards: 1990 Quazza Medal by the International Federation of Automatic Control, and the 1995 Control Systems Field Award by the IEEE. He also received an Eminent Faculty Award, two Outstanding IEEE Transactions Paper Awards (1983 and 1993), and delivered the 1991 IEEE Control Systems Society Bode Prize Lecture. His most recent recognition is the 2002 IEEE James H. Mulligan Jr. Education Medal.

2001: A.V. Balakrishnan
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award

For pioneering contributions to stochastic and distributed systems theory, optimization, control, and aerospace flight systems research


A.V. Balakrishnan earned his M.S. Degree in Electrical Engineering and his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Southern California in 1950 and 1954, respectively. Prof. Balakrishnan has been with the University of California, Los Angeles, since 1961; he has been a Professor of Engineering since 1962 and a Professor of Mathematics since 1965. He was Chair of the Department of Systems Science in the (then) School of Engineering from 1969-1975. Since 1985, he has served as the appointed Director of the NASA-UCLA Flight Systems Research Center. Dr. Balakrishnan also lends his expertise to industry and the government, including Optimization Software, Inc., NADC US Navy, and the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.

Professor Balakrishnan holds patents on the "modes of interconnected lattice trusses using continuum models, and "laser beam log amplitude temporal scintillation spectrum due to crosswind". He has received honors and awards from the International Federation of Information Processing Society (1977), NASA (1978, 1992,1995, and 1996), and, in 1980, the Guillemin Prize in recognition of the major impact that his original contributions have had in setting the research direction of communications and control. Most recently, Prof. Balakrishnan has been selected as the 2001 awardee for the Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award, which is the highest recognition of professional achievement for US control systems engineers and scientists. He has published over 200 papers, and has authored or edited over 10 books.

Prof. Balakrishnan is a Lifetime Fellow of IEEE, a member of the International Scientific Radio Union, the Chair of the IFIP Technical Committee 7 and of Working Group 7.1, and the President of the ComCon Conference Board.

2000: W. Harmon Ray
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award


Dr. W. Harmon Ray is Vilas Research Professor and past chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He received his B.A. and B.S.Ch.E. from Rice University and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1966. Before joining the University of Wisconsin he was a faculty member at the University of Waterloo in Canada, from 1966 to 1970, and at the State University of New York at Buffalo, from 1970 to 1976. Professor Ray has had extensive industrial consulting experience, and has contributed numerous articles to the technical literature in the areas of polymerization processes, chemical reaction engineering, process modelling, optimization, and process dynamics and control. He is co-author of a monograph, Process Optimization, published in 1973, and author of Advanced Process Control which appeared in 1981. This latter book has been published in Russian and Chinese. Professor Ray is also co-editor of two volumes: Distributed Parameter Systems (1978), and Dynamics and Modelling of Reacting Systems (1980). More recently, he is the coauthor of the textbook, Process Dynamics, Modeling, and Control (1994).

In 1969, Professor Ray received the D. P. Eckman Award of the American Automatic Control Council and spent a year, in 1973-74, as a Guggenheim Fellow in Europe. In 1981 he received the Arthur K. Doolittle Award of the Organic Coatings and Plastics Division of the American Chemical Society and also the Automatica Prize Paper Award of the International Federation of Automatic Control. In addition, he was the recipient of the 1982 Professional Progress Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineeers. In 1989 Prof. Ray received the Control Education Award from the American Automatic Control Council. Professor Ray has been a distinguished lecturer at a number of universities including the Lacey Lectures at Caltech, the Reilly Lectures at Notre Dame, the Kelley Lecture at Purdue, and the Sargent Lecture at Imperial College London.

Prof. Ray is a Fellow of AIChE, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

1999: Yu-Chi Ho
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award

For sustained and significant contributions to research and education in optimization and control of dynamic systems, and his establishment of a new branch of these fields, Discrete Event Dynamic Systems


Yu-Chi (Larry) Ho received his S.B. and S.M. degrees in Electrical Engineering from M.I.T. and his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University. Except for three years of full time industrial work he has been on the Harvard Faculty. Since 1969 he has been Gordon McKay Professor of Engineering and Applied Mathematics. Since 1989, he has been the T. Jefferson Coolidge Chair in Applied Mathematics and Gordon McKay Professor of Systems Engineering at Harvard. He was also the visiting professor to the Cockrell Family Regent's Chair in Engineering at the University of Texas, Austin in 1989.

He has published over 140 articles and three books, one of which (co-authored with A.E. Bryson, Jr.) has been translated into both Russian and Chinese and made the list of Citation Classics as one of the most referenced works on the subject of optimal control. He is on the editorial boards of several international journals and is the editor-in-chief of the international Journal on Discrete Event Dynamic Systems. He is the recipient of various fellowships and awards including the Guggenheim (1970) and the IEEE Field Award for Control Engineering and Science (1989), the Chiang Technology Achievement Prize (1993). He is a Life fellow of IEEE, a Distinguished Member of the Control Systems Society, and was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (1987). In addition to service on various governmental and industrial panels, and professional society administrative bodies, he was the President of the IEEE Robotics & Automation Society in 1988 and co-founder of Network Dynamics, Inc., a software firm specializing in industrial automation.

His research interests lie at the intersection of Control System Theory, Operations Research, and Artificial Intelligence. He has contributed to topics range from optimal control, differential games, information structure, multi-person decision analysis, to incentive control, and since 1983, exclusively to discrete event dynamic systems, perturbation analysis, ordinal optimization, and computational intelligence.

1998: Lotfi A. Zadeh
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award

For fundamental contributions to systems theory and pioneering works on fuzzy sets and systems leading to a global trend on machine intelligence quotient systems


Lotfi A. Zadeh joined the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1959, and served as its chairman from 1963 to 1968. Earlier, he was a member of the electrical engineering faculty at Columbia University. In 1956, he was a visiting member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. In addition, he held a number of other visiting appointments, among them a visiting professorship in Electrical Engineering at MIT in 1962 and 1968; a visiting scientist appointment at IBM Research Laboratory, San Jose, CA, in 1968, 1973, and 1977; and visiting scholar appointments at the AI Center, SRI International, in 1981, and at the Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University, in 1987-1988. Currently he is a Professor in the Graduate School, and is serving as the Director of BISC (Berkeley Initiative in Soft Computing).

Until 1965, Dr. Zadeh's work had been centered on system theory and decision analysis. Since then, his research interests have shifted to the theory of fuzzy sets and its applications to artificial intelligence, linguistics, logic, decision analysis, control theory, expert systems and neural networks. Currently, his research is focused on fuzzy logic, soft computing and computing with words. An alumnus of the University of Teheran, MIT, and Columbia University, Dr. Zadeh is a fellow of the IEEE, AAAS, ACM and AAAI, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He was the recipient of the IEEE Education Medal in 1973 and a recipient of the IEEE Centennial Medal in 1984. In 1989, Dr. Zadeh was awarded the Honda Prize by the Honda Foundation, and in 1991 received the Berkeley Citation, University of California. In 1992, Dr. Zadeh was awarded the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal "for seminal contributions to information science and systems, including the conceptualization of fuzzy sets." He became a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (Computer Sciences and Cybernetics Section) in 1992 and received the Certificate of Commendation for AI Special Contributions Award from the International Foundation for Artificial Intelligence. Also in 1992, he was awarded the Kampe de Feriet Medal and became an Honorary Member of the Austrian Society of Cybernetic Studies.

In 1993, Dr. Zadeh received the Rufus Oldenburger Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers "for seminal contributions in system theory, decision analysis, and theory of fuzzy sets and its applications to AI, linguistics, logic, expert systems and neural networks." He was also awarded the Grigore Moisil Prize for Fundamental Researches, and the Premier Best Paper Award by the Second International Conference on Fuzzy Theory and Technology. In 1995, Dr. Zadeh was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor "for pioneering development of fuzzy logic and its many diverse applications." In 1996, Dr. Zadeh was awarded the Okawa Prize "for outstanding contribution to information science through the development of fuzzy logic and its applications." In 1997, Dr. Zadeh was awarded the B. Bolzano Medal by the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic "for outstanding achievements in fuzzy mathematics." He also received the J.P. Wohl Career Achievement Award of the IEEE Systems, Science and Cybernetics Society. He served as a Lee Kuan Yew Distinguished Visitor, lecturing at the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and as the Gulbenkian Foundation Visiting Professor at the New University of Lisbon in Portugal.

Dr. Zadeh holds honorary doctorates from Paul-Sabatier University, Toulouse, France; State University of New York, Binghamton, NY; University of Dortmund, Dortmund, Germany; University of Oviedo, Oviedo, Spain; University of Granada, Granada, Spain; Lakehead University, Canada; University of Louisville, KY; Baku State University, Azerbaijan; and the Silesian Technical University, Gliwice, Poland. Dr. Zadeh has authored close to two hundred papers and serves on the editorial boards of over fifty journals. He is a member of the Technology Advisory Board, U.S. Postal Service; Advisory Committee, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, UC Santa Barbara; Advisory Board, Fuzzy Initiative, North Rhine-Westfalia, Germany; Fuzzy Logic Research Center, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas; Advisory Committee, Center for Education and Research in Fuzzy Systems and Artificial Intelligence, Iasi, Romania; Senior Advisory Board, International Institute for General Systems Studies; the Board of Governors, International Neural Networks Society; and is the Honorary President of the Biomedical Fuzzy Systems Association of Japan and the Spanish Association for Fuzzy Logic and Technologies.

1997: Rudolf E. Kalman
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award

For fundamental contributions to control and system theory


R.E. Kalman was born in Budapest, Hungary, on May 19, 1930. He received the bachelor's degree (S.B.) and the masterís degree (S.M.) in electrical engineering, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953 and 1954, respectively. He received the doctorate degree (D.Sci.) from Columbia University in 1957. His major positions include that of Research Mathematician at the Research Institute for Advanced Study in Baltimore, 1958-1964; Professor at Stanford University 1964-1971; Graduate Research Professor at the Center for Mathematical System Theory, University of Florida, Gainesville 1971-1993. Moreover, since 1973 he has also held the chair for Mathematical System Theory at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) Zurich.

He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the IEEE Medal of Honor (1974), the IEEE Centennial Medal (1984), the Kyoto Prize in High Technology from the Inamori foundation, Japan (1985), the Steele Prize of the American Mathematical Society (1987). He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, a foreign member of the Hungarian and French Academies of Science, and has received a number of honorary doctorates. Kalman's first major contribution was the introduction of the self-tuning regulator in adaptive control. Between 1959 and 1964 Kalman wrote a series of seminal papers. First, the new approach to the filtering problem, known today as Kalman Filtering was put forward. In the meantime, the all pervasive concept of controllability and its dual, the concept of observability, were formulated. By combining the filtering and the control ideas, the first systematic theory for control synthesis, known today as the Linear-Quadratic-Gaussian or LQG theory, resulted. The next contribution was the solution of the black box modelling problem in the linear case, known as realization theory. This problem involves the construction of the state from input/output measurements. The next milestone in the sequence of contributions was the introduction of module theory to the study of linear systems.

Over the past 15 years Kalman has devoted his efforts to the understanding of the problem of identification from noisy data with particular attention to the connections with econometrics, statistics and probability theory.

1996: E.G. Gilbert
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award

In recognition of a distinguished career in automatic control, with pioneering research contributions to a broad range of subjects including linear multivariable systems theory, computation of optimal controls, nonlinear systems theory, and motion planning in the presence of obstacles


Elmer G. Gilbert received his B.S.E. and M.S.E. degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1952 and 1953, respectively, and his Ph.D. in Instrumentation Engineering in 1957, all from the University of Michigan. He has been with the University of Michigan's Department of Aerospace Engineering (then called Aeronautical Engineering) since 1954, becoming Professor in 1963 and Professor Emeritus in 1994. Visiting positions include the United States Air Force Academy (1965), the Johns Hopkins University (1974-1976, 1991-1992), the University of Minnesota (1985-1986), and the National University of Singapore (multiple times 1997-2005).

Dr. Gilbert has had a highly varied career in engineering development, basic research, and teaching. This has led to over 100 publications and 9 patents. In the systems and control area at the University of Michigan, he was active in curriculum development and as an advocate for cross-department cooperation. He was Chair or Co-Chair of doctoral committees for 23 students.

During his graduate studies, he was involved in the department’s analog computer and aircraft simulation research programs. This activity continued through the 1960’s, both in the department and as a consultant to Applied Dynamics Incorporated, a computer firm founded in 1957 by him and two other department professors, Robert M. Howe and Edward O. Gilbert. Up to 1970, he was a key member of the Applied Dynamics group responsible for conception and development of new products, primarily state-of-the-art analog and hybrid computers. The firm still exists, specializing in hardware and software tools for hardware-in-the-loop simulation, system prototyping, and embedded controller software.

The 1960’s were a period of rapid development for the theory and application of control systems. This was the area of work in which Dr. Gilbert’s university activities were centered. A principal interest was the design of multivariable control systems. Based on his experience in system simulation, he observed that casual use of matrices of transfer functions did not allow adequate descriptions of the underlying dynamics they represent. This led to his widely recognized work (1962-1963) on the role of observability and controllably on state-space system representations, including the Gilbert realization, now a standard topic in system textbooks. A long-standing problem in multivariable linear-systems theory, not involving transfer functions, was input-output decoupling by state feedback. Dr. Gilbert gave its first complete solution in 1969. The result led to a large body of subsequent research in the field. Computational issues motivated much of his other research in the 1960’s. This included convexity-based, abstract optimization algorithms that led to the efficient solution of practical optimal control problems (for example, minimum-fuel impulsive control).

Dr. Gilbert’s research contributions, after the 1960’s, are characterized by overlapping themes that already had appeared in his prior work: dynamic system representation and realization, optimal control, systems with hard (point-wise in time) constraints, and effective computational procedures. Specific topics treated include: periodic optimal control and its application to improved aircraft flight efficiency, feedback decoupling for nonlinear systems, power-law functional expansions for the input-output response of nonlinear systems, stability of nonlinear control systems with feedback provided by model predictive control, efficient procedures for computing the distance between objects (polytopes) in 3 space, path planning for robots in the presence obstacles, domains of attraction for linear systems with hard constraints and set bounded disturbances, and reference and command governors for linear systems with disturbances and hard constraints. Some of the papers on these topics published by Dr. Gilbert and his colleagues have become standard references in the control systems literature. Perhaps the most widely recognized paper is the one in 1988 with S. S. Keerthi on model predictive control. It was the first contribution to address in specific, rigorous ways stability issues crucial in many current control applications.

Recognitions for Dr. Gilbert’s contributions include: Fellow of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineering for “Contributions to multivariable and optimal control systems” (1979), election to the Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars (1990), a Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award from the University of Michigan (1991), Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science for “Contributions to theory and practice of multivariable, optimal, nonlinear, and computer control systems and to control engineering education" (1995). In 1994, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering: "For contributions to the theory and practice of multivariable, optimal, non-linear, and computer control systems, and to control engineering education." In 1994, he received the IEEE Technical Field Award in Control Systems "For pioneering and innovative contributions to linear state space theory and its applications, especially realization and decoupling, as well as to control algorithms." In 1996, he received the Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award from the American Automatic Control Council "In recognition of a distinguished career in automatic control, with pioneering research contributions to a broad range of subjects including linear multivariable systems theory, computation of optimal controls, nonlinear systems theory, and motion planning in the presence of obstacles."

Text of Acceptance Speech:

July 4, 1996

I am immensely pleased by the Award! It is indeed a special honor, coming from the American Automatic Control Council, which has done so much to advance and to unify the field of control. I recall with delight the long sequence of Joint Automatic Control Conferences and the subsequent American Control Conferences. The Council's many current activities, including its participation in this 13th IFAC World Congress, continue its invaluable service to the control community.

In receiving the award I wish to recognize the support of friends, colleagues and former students. They have played a vital role in my work. I must also acknowledge the special influence of others I have known mostly or entirely through their publications. It is no surprise that Richard Bellman was one of them. Let me make a few remarks about his legacy and how it affects us today.

In examining his writings I am struck by his genuine interest in applications and obvious desire to make his findings useful to a wide audience. In this, I believe, there are lessons to be learned. I'll note four.

1. Fundamental ideas have greater power when they are elegantly expressed. There is no better example than Bellman's formulation of dynamic programming. Its wonderfully stated ideas permeate and illuminate much of what we do, ranging from deep theoretical results in optimal control to practical, on-line implementation of controllers.

2. Propagation of knowledge is enhanced by the establishment of connections across fields and disciplines. Bellman's 1960 book, "Introduction to Matrix Analysis," illustrates this point beautifully. The discussions and bibliographies and the end of each chapter are marvelous sources of insight and diversity.

3. In mathematical exposition, clarity and accessibility are precious attributes. Bellman had a special talent for keeping mathematical developments closely connected to first principles and organizing them in simple, easy to understand parcels. He had the courage to compromise generality for clarity and, on occasion, rigor for insight.

4. Numerical issues are crucial to control applications. Bellman realized this early, four decades ago, when he addressed controller implementation, algorithm design, error analysis, and computational complexity.

Over the years the field of control has become mature, complex and diverse. We now need, as Richard Bellman did so well, to give greater attention to the means by which we encourage its progress and impact on society. On that point I will end. Thank you.

1995: Michael Athans
Recipient of Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award