Boldface names are recipients of the 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 strongly encouraged to give a plenary presentation at the ACC Awards Luncheon.
 Boldface names are recipients of the Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award.
Dimitri P. Bertsekas' undergraduate studies were in engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. He obtained his MS in electrical engineering at the George Washington University, Wash. DC in 1969, and his Ph.D. in system science in 1971 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A. Stephen Morse was born in Mt. Vernon, New York. He received a BSEE degree from Cornell University, MS degree from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. degree from Purdue University. From 1967 to 1970 he was associated with the Office of Control Theory and Application (OCTA) at the NASA Electronics Research Center in Cambridge, Mass. Since 1970 he has been with Yale University where he is presently the Dudley Professor of Engineering.
Arthur J. Krener received the PhD in Mathematics from the University of California,
Berkeley in 1971. From 1971 to 2006 he was at the University of California, Davis. He
retired in 2006 as a Distinguished Professor of Mathematics. Currently he is a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics at the Naval Postgraduate School.
His research interests are in developing methods for the control and estimation of nonlinear dynamical systems and stochastic processes.
It is a honor to receive the 2012 Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award. I am deeply humbled to join the very distinguished group of prior winners. At this conference there are so many people whose work I have admired for years. To be singled out among this
group is a great honor.
I did not know Richard Bellman personally but we are all his intellectual descendants. Years ago my first thesis problem came from Bellman and currently I am working on numerical solutions to Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman partial differential equations.
I began graduate school in mathematics at Berkeley in 1964, the year of the Free Speech Movement. After passing my oral exams in 1966, I started my thesis work with R. Sherman Lehman who had been a postdoc with Bellman at the Rand Corporation in the 1950s. Bellman and Lehman had worked on continuous linear programs also called bottleneck problems in Bellman’s book on Dynamic Programming. These problems are dynamic versions of linear
programs, with linear integral transformations replacing finite dimensional linear transformations. At each frozen time they reduce to a standard linear program. Bellman and Lehman had worked out several examples and found that often the optimal solution was basic, at each time an extreme point of the set of feasible solutions to the time frozen linear program. These extreme points moved with time and the optimal solution would stay on one moving extreme point for awhile and then jump to another. It would jump from one bottleneck to another.
Lehman asked me to study this problem and find conditions for this to happen. We thought that it was a problem in functional analysis and so I started taking advanced courses in this area. Unfortunately about a year later Lehman had a very serious auto accident and lost the ability to think mathematically for some time. I drifted, one of hundreds of graduate students in Mathematics at that time. Moreover, Berkeley in the late 1960s was full of distractions and I was distractable. After a year or so Lehman recovered and we started to meet regularly. But then he had a serious stroke, perhaps as a consequence of the accident, and I was on my own again.
I was starting to doubt that my thesis problem was rooted in functional analysis. Fortunately I had taken a course in differential geometry from S. S. Chern, one of the pre-eminent geometers of his generation. Among other things, Chern had taught me about the Lie bracket. And one of my graduate student colleagues told me that I was trying to prove a bang-bang theorem in Control Theory, a field that I had never heard of before. I then realized that my problem was local in nature and intimately connected with flows of vector fields so the Lie bracket was an essential tool. I went to Chern and asked him some questions about the range of flows of multiple vector fields. He referred me to Bob Hermann who was visiting the Berkeley Physics Department at that time.
I went to see Hermann in his cigar smoked-filled office accompanied by my faithful companion, a German Shepherd named Hogan. If this sounds strange, remember this was Berkeley in the 1960s. Bob was welcoming and gracious, he gave me galley proofs of his forthcoming book which contained Chow’s theorem. It was almost the theorem that I had been groping for. Heartened by this encounter I continued to compute Lie brackets in the hope of proving a bang-bang theorem.
Time drifted by and I needed to get out of graduate school so I approached the only math faculty member who knew anything about control, Stephen Diliberto. He agreed to take me on as a thesis student. He said that we should meet for an hour each week and I should tell him what I had done. After a couple of months, I asked him what more I needed to do to get a PhD. His answer was ”write it up”. My ”proofs” fell apart several times trying to accomplish this. But finally I came up with a lemma that might be called Chow’s theorem with drift that allowed me to finish my thesis.
I am deeply indebted to Diliberto for getting me out of graduate school. He also did another wonderful thing for me, he wrote over a hundred letters to help me find a job. The job market in 1971 was not as terrible as it is today but it was bad. One of these letters landed on the desk of a young full professor at Harvard, Roger Brockett. He had also realized that the Lie bracket had a lot to contribute to control. Over the ensuing years, Roger has been a great supporter of my work and I am deeply indebted to him.
Another Diliberto letter got me a position at Davis where I prospered as an Assistant Professor. Tenure came easily as I had learned to do independent research in graduate school. I brought my dog, Hogan, to class every day, he worked the crowds of students and boosted my teaching evaluations by at least a point. After 35 wonderful years at Davis, I retired and joined the Naval Postgraduate School where I continue to teach and do research. I am indebted to these institutions and also to the NSF and the AFOSR for supporting my career.
I feel very fortunate to have discovered control theory both for the intellectual beauty of the subject and the numerous wonderful people that I have met in this field. I mentioned a few names, let me also acknowledge my intellectual debt to and friendship with Hector Sussman, Petar Kokotovic, Alberto Isidori, Chris Byrnes, Steve Morse, Anders Lindquist, Wei Kang and numerous others.
In my old age I have come back to the legacy of Bellman. Two National Research Council Postdocs, Cesar Aguilar and Thomas Hunt, have been working with me on developing patchy methods for solving the Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman equations of optimal control. We haven’t whipped the ”curse of dimensionality” yet but we are making it nervous.
The first figure shows the patchy solution of the HJB equation to invert a pendulum. There are about 1800 patches on 34 levels and calculation took about 13 seconds on a laptop. The algorithm is adaptive, it adds patches or rings of patches when the residual of the HJB equation is too large. The optimal cost is periodic in the angle. The second figure shows this. Notice that there is a negatively slanted line of focal points. At these points there is an optimal clockwise and an optimal counterclockwise torque. If the angular velocity is large enough then the optimal trajectory will pass through the up position several times before coming to rest there.
What are the secrets to success? Almost everybody at this conference has deep mathematical skills. In the parlance of the NBA playoffs which has just ended, what separates researchers is “shot selection” and ”follow through”. Choosing the right problem at the right time and perseverance, nailing the problem, are needed along with good luck and, to paraphrase the Beatles, ”a little help from your friends”.
Manfred Morari was appointed head of the Department of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at ETH Zurich in 2009. He was head of the Automatic Control Laboratory from 1994 to 2008. Before that he was the McCollum-Corcoran Professor of Chemical Engineering and Executive Officer for Control and Dynamical Systems at the California Institute of Technology. He obtained the diploma from ETH Zurich and the Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, both in chemical engineering. His interests are in hybrid systems and the control of biomedical systems.
Usually when you are nominated for an award you know about it or – at least – you have a suspicion – for example, when somebody asks you for your CV, but you are sure that they are not interested in hiring you. This award came to me as a total surprise. Indeed I had written a letter of support for another most worthy candidate. So, when I received Tamer Başar’s email I thought that it was to inform me that this colleague had won. Who was actually responsible for my nomination? Several of my former graduate students! So, not only were they responsible for doing the work that qualified me for the award, they were even responsible for my getting it!
Over the course of my career I was fortunate to have worked with a fantastic group of people and I am very proud of them: 64 Phd Students to date and about 25 postdocs. 27 of them are holding professorships all over the world – from the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology KAIST in the East to Berkeley and Santa Barbara in the West from the Norwegian Technical University and the U Toronto in the North to the Technion in Israel and the Instituto Tecnologico de Buenos Aires in the South. Many others are now in industry, about 15 in Finance, Management Consulting and Legal, holding positions of major responsibility. I regard this group of former co-workers as my most important legacy.
This award means a lot to me because of the awe-inspiring people who received it in the past. I remember Hendrik Bode receiving the inaugural award in 1979. I remember Rutherford Aris, one of my PhD advisors at the University of Minnesota receiving it in 1992. Aris had actually worked and published with Richard Bellman. I remember Harmon Ray receiving it in 2000, my colleague and mentor at the University of Wisconsin.
Receiving this award made me also reflect on what I felt our major contributions were in these 34 years since I started my career as an Asst. Prof at Wisconsin. In what way was our work important? I was reminded of a dinner conversation a few months back with a group of my former PhD students who had joined McKinsey after graduating from ETH. One of them told me that our group had supplied more young consultants to McKinsey Switzerland than any other institute of any university in Switzerland. He also talked informally about the results of a survey done internally on what may be the main traits characterizing a CEO. It is not charm. It is not tactfulness and sensitivity. It is not intelligence. The only common trait seems to be that in their past these CEOs headed a division that experienced unusual growth. For example, the CEO of a telecom company had headed the mobile phone division. All the CEOs seemed to have been at the right place at the right time.
Similar considerations may apply to doing research and to heading a research group. Richard Hamming, best known for the Hamming code and the Hamming window, wrote in a wonderful essay: “If you are to do important work then you must work on the right problem at the right time and in the right way. Without any one of the three, you may do good work but you will almost certainly miss real greatness….”
So, what are the right problems? Eric Sevareid, the famous CBS journalist once quipped: “The chief cause of problems is solutions.” We were never interested in working on problems solely for their mathematical beauty. We always wanted to solve real practical problems with potential impact. Several times we were lucky to be standing at a turning point, ready to embark on a new line of research before the community at large had recognized it. Let me share with you three examples.
Around 1975, when I started my PhD at the University of Minnesota, interest in process control was just about at an all-time low. In 1979 this conference, which was then called the Joint Automatic Control Conference, had barely 300 attendees. The benefits of optimal control and the state space approach had been hyped so much for more than a decade that disillusionment was unavoidable. Many people advised me not to commence a thesis in process control. But my advisor George Stephanopoulos convinced me that the reason for all the disappointment was that people had been working on the wrong problem. The problem was not how to design controllers for poorly designed system but how to design systems such that they are easy to control. The work that was started at that time by us and several other groups provided valuable insights that are in common use today and set off a whole research movement with special sessions, special journal issues and even separate workshops and conferences.
The second example is our work on Internal Model Control (IMC) and Robust Control. In the early 1980s the term “robust control” did not exist or, at least, it was not widely used and accepted. From our application work and influenced by several senior members of our community we had become convinced that model uncertainty is a critical obstacle affecting controller design. We discovered singular values and the condition number as important indicators before we learned that these were established mathematical quantities with established names. In 1982 at a workshop in Interlaken I met John Doyle, Gunter Stein and essentially everybody else who started to push the robust control agenda. Indeed it was there that Jürgen Ackerman made the researchers in the West aware of the results of Kharitonov. A year later I went to Caltech, John Doyle followed soon afterwards and an exciting research collaboration commenced that lasted for almost a decade. We also cofounded the Control and Dynamical Systems option/department at that time.
The third example is our more recent work on Model Predictive Control (MPC) and Hybrid Systems. As I returned to Switzerland 17 years ago, I moved from a chemical to an electrical engineering department. I was thrown into a new world of systems with time constants of micro- or even nanoseconds rather than the minutes or hours that I was used to. So we set out to dispel the myth that MPC was only suited to slow process control problems and showed that it could even be applied to switched power electronics systems. Through this activity in parallel with a couple of other groups in the world, among them the group of Graham Goodwin, we started this era of “fast MPC” and contributed to the spread of MPC to just about every control application area.
I would never claim that in the mentioned areas we made the most significant contributions and some of the results may even seem trivial to you now, but we were there at the beginning. The Hungarian author Arthur Koestler remarked that “the more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards”
Not withstanding this over-the-hill award that I received today and the mandatory retirement age in Switzerland I fully intend to strive to match these contributions in the coming years – together with my students, of course.
I want to close my remarks quoting from an interview Woody Allen gave last year. When he was asked “How do you feel about the aging process?” he replied: “Well, I’m against it. I think it has nothing to recommend it.”