You are here

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.

Gene F. Franklin

For fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of digital, modern, adaptive, and multivariable control and for being a mentor, inspiration and friend to five decades of graduate students

Gene F. Franklin received the Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 1950 the Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from MIT in 1952, and the Doctor of Engineering Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University in 1955.

Text of Acceptance Speech: 

June 9, 2005. Portland, OR

'Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be'

I don't feel particularly old but to be in the midst of friends and colleagues with this recognition is as good as it gets.

I'd like to use these few minutes to comment on several of the times when I've come to a fork in the road as an illustration of how difficult it is to predict how a given path will turn out. There may be people who plan their lives carefully and take each step based on the best prediction of a good outcome; I'm not one of them. Too many events in my life were based on random events to pretend that they were based on any good planning of mine.

My first decision was a good one: I selected outstanding parents. My father was a math teacher, my mother an RN and they gave me a love of books and learning that have served me well for over 7 decades. They did, however, make one mistake: they gave me a defective gene that prevents me from seeing colors the way most others see them. If you see me going Ooh and Ah over a rainbow, don't believe it; I'm faking it.

The next decision I wish to mention was in 1945 when I became eligible for the military draft. The good news was that I was admitted to the Navy Radio Technician program but the bad news was that I had to sign up for four years to accept the offer. The evidence was that the war would last several more years so I signed up. That decision did not look so good a few weeks later when President Truman approved use of atomic bombs to reduce Hiroshima to rubble and Nagasaki to ruin in a matter of seconds. The war ended soon after but I was still stuck with four years obligation to the Navy. When I got to Chicago for my final physical, one of the doctors asked me to identify the numbers in a set of circles filled with colored dots. I'm sure that I gave him some values never before found! My performance was such that he marked me as partially disabled, put me on medical special assignment, and sent me off to the electronics school.

I finished the school in the summer of 1946 and was selected to be an instructor at a new campus being set up at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago. I taught electronic amplifiers there using the book Radio Engineering by F E Terman. One of my fellow students there later became well known in the control field (and a Vice President of IBM): Jack Bertram had also signed up for the Navy electronics program. In the early summer of 1947 my defective gene came to my rescue. The Navy announced that any sailor on medical special assignment was eligible for discharge! My response: That's ME.

Out of the Navy I went and set about looking for a school that would accept me at that late date. I was turned down by several fine schools but Georgia Tech told me to come on down so off I went to Atlanta where I got my EE degree in 1950. The months I'd served in the Navy made me eligible for enough GI Bill support to pay the tuition and expenses which I could never have afforded otherwise. This time the bad news was that in the spring of 1950 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the country was to graduate twice as many engineers as the economy could absorb. My only choice was to accept a fellowship to MIT and continue my education using the last of my GI Bill of Rights tuition support. As an aside, while there I took a graduate course on pulse and timing circuits that contained little new from what we had learned in the Navy program as high school graduates! I also had a great time learning how to play rugby from a group of graduate students from South Africa. A most memorable part of this experience was when we were one of the teams selected to play in a tournament as the entertainment for spring break in Bermuda.

After finishing my MS in 1952 I had married the love of my life and needed to get a job. A fellow student introduced me to Professor Jack Millman who was visiting MIT looking for possible appointments to Columbia University. I interviewed with him and was offered a position as Instructor which involved teaching responsibilities but allowed me to study for the doctorate at the same time. I had no idea that I was stepping into a fantastic center of control research assembled by John Ragazzini. With his colleague Lotfi Zadeh he had attracted great students including Eli Jury, Art Bergen, Jack Bertram, Rudy Kalman, Bernie Friedland, George Kranc, and Phil Sarachik. Sampled Data control was never the same again. The first treatment of 'pulsed circuits' was chapter 5 by Hurewicz in the Rad Lab Vol. 25 on The Theory of Servomechanisms edited by James Nichols and Phillips. Hurewicz selected the variable of discrete transforms as z, a prediction of one period and we kept the same convention. At about the time as Ragazzini's group were starting our study, some at MIT selected z to be a delay operator. In the end, z as predictor prevailed but to this day MATLAB treats discrete transforms differently in the Signal Processing toolbox as they do in the Control toolbox. You can look it up.

After I got my degree in 1955 I was promoted to Assistant Professor. I loved Columbia and was pleased to be selected by Professor Ragazzini to join him as co-author of a book on sampled data but New York City left a lot to be desired as a place to raise the two children who had joined my family by this time and soon another fork in the road appeared. It was presented in the person of Professor John Linvill whose class I had taken at MIT and who had moved from MIT to Stanford by way of Bell Labs. John knew Lotfi Zadeh and at his invitation came to Columbia looking for possible new appointments to Stanford's faculty. Again I interviewed and was offered a position on the Stanford Faculty. Thus it was that in late May of 1957 we loaded up the (non air-conditioned) Ford and headed west. I'll never forget the hot day in June when we stopped for gas in Sacramento where the temperature was well over 100 degrees. The pavement was so soft my shoes sank into the asphalt. Then later that day we crossed the mountains into the Bay Area and the temperature dropped about 1 degree per mile for the last 30 miles. We've been in love with the San Francisco Bay area ever since.

As an aside comment on control at the time, in the paper on The history of the Society by Danny Abramovitch and myself, George Axelby is quoted as saying that papers presented at the 1959 conference on control by Kalman and Bertram using state notation were 'quite a mystery to most attendees.' I'd say that the idea of state was not long a mystery to those who had worked with analog computers. On those machines, the only dynamic elements are integrators whose outputs comprise the state quite naturally. In my opinion, every control engineer should be required to program an analog computer where one also quickly learns the value of amplitude and time scaling too.

In any case, such was the random walk through time and space that has taken me from the mountains of North Carolina to the coast of California. My tenure at Stanford has been marked by many things but first and foremost in my affection has been the steady stream of excellent students with whom I have been privileged to work. Without a doubt they have made major contributions to control and to them is owed much of the credit for which this award in made. So let me close with the moral of my story aimed mainly to those in academia:

You can never be too careful when selecting your students.
The corollary to this is applicable to everyone:
It's hard to soar like an Eagle if you fly with a bunch of turkeys.

Thank you very much.

Pravin Varaiya

For pioneering contributions to stochastic control, hybrid systems and the unification of theories of control and computation

Pravin Varaiya is Nortel Networks Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1975 to 1992 he was also Professor of Economics at Berkeley. During 1994-1997 he was Director of California PATH, a multi-university research program concerned with the development and use of technology to help solve California’s transportation problems.

Text of Acceptance Speech: 

June 12, 2008. Seattle, WA

It is an honor to receive the Bellman Award. I am sure the Award Committee received many outstanding nominations, and I thank the Committee for selecting me. I was invited to make a few remarks, so long as I did not exceed five minutes. I will point out some landmarks along my intellectual journey. The young people among you may find it of some interest. I came to Berkeley as a graduate student in 1960. I owe a great deal to Professor Lotfi Zadeh who was my PhD adviser and who has been a mentor to me ever since. Much of my intellectual development came from interaction with visitors and students. Karl Astrom visited me in the early 1960s. His paper with Bohlin on system identification became for me a standard of research quality and research exposition. Another significant visitor was Bill Root. Bill showed me how to use mathematics in the analysis of communication systems, and he introduced me to information theory.

Stochastic Systems
There was a buzz at the time about white noise and martingales. Gene Wong was talking about it, as was Moshe Zakai. Tyrone Duncan was visiting. Ty de-mystified the buzz for me. He taught me how to think about stochastic systems. Thus began my lifelong attraction towards randomness. Sanjoy Mitter, who I first met about that time, reinforced that attraction. Sanjoy became a lifelong friend, for which I am very grateful.

Mark Davis was the first in a sequence of brilliant PhD students in stochastic systems. Mark discovered the deep relation between martingales and optimum decisions. Rene Boel, Jan van Schuppen, and Gene Wong found that martingales were also key to point processes as well as Ito processes. Jean Walrand grasped this insight and developed it into an outstanding thesis on queuing networks. Venkat Anantharam knew little or nothing about probability theory when he began his PhD. I still recall how much he impressed me with his spectacular work on multi-armed bandits. The third in this group was Vivek Borkar. Vivek was the most quiet, but equally stunning.

This was when P.R. Kumar visited Berkeley. He is the first of the next generation that I got to know as a friend. I have become a fan of his, along with so many others. Intellectual life moves in circles. Borkar and Kumar re-connected me with Karl Astrom, this time through his paper with Wittenmark.

Jean Walrand introduced me to computer communication networks. This has continued to be an area of research for the past twenty years. We've had outstanding students, who have gone on to brilliant careers. Sri Kumar, then at Northwestern, Jean Walrand and I got to know each other through our interest in networking.

I learned power engineering in undergraduate school. But then I lost contact with the field, until years later when Felix Wu joined our faculty. Eyad Abed, Fathi Salem and Shankar Sastry wrote their dissertations on difficult questions in nonlinear systems, inspired by problems of power systems. I lost contact with the field once again, until deregulation became the rage in California. Once again Felix recruited me. Felix Wu, Shmuel Oren of IEOR, Pablo Spiller of the Business School, and I joined forces to save California from the clutches of the utilities. We developed a provably good deregulation strategy. The strategy was not adopted.

Ahmad Bahai and Andrea Goldsmith sparked my interest in wireless communications. They have become stars. They inspired my very recent students, Mustafa Ergen and Sinem Coleri.

In the late sixties, Noam Chomsky came to Berkeley and gave a lecture on formal languages. Chomsky's talk opened up a whole world for me. I spent a lot of time learning recursive functions, Turing machines, and Godel's theory. Walt Burkhard wanted to do a thesis on space-time complexity of recursive functions, and he helped consolidate what I had learned. However, my involvement with that subject declined.

My interest was revived by the Wonham-Ramadge paper on discrete-event systems, while Joseph Sifakis, Tom Henzinger and others began the study of time automata. These developments combined to create the area of Hybrid Systems. My students Anuj Puri and Alex Kurzhansky obtained some outstanding results in Hybrid Systems.

My flirtation with transportation began 30 years ago when I taught urban economics. Mario Ripper was my first doctoral student in transportation planning. My interest then waned. In 1990, Steve Shladover helped spark a national, indeed worldwide, interest in automated highways. Berkeley became a leading research center in highway automation, culminating in a full demonstration in 1997 in San Diego. It was very exciting to work with an interdisciplinary group of experts to build something all the way from theory to demonstration.

Since I could not wait for 25 years before automated highways became practical, my attention shifted to today's highways. My student Karl Petty built the PeMS system, which is now world-renowned as a repository of highway data. Roberto Horowitz and I are now developing a control system for the management of highways. It might become an important follow-on to the PeMS system.

Let me conclude with a remark on Richard Bellman, whom I met in the late sixties. Bellman was a renowned mathematician with contributions in many, many areas. I learned two things from him. First, over the years I continue to marvel at the significance of the optimality principle in the form of the verification theorem, which I have used in many contexts. Second and more important, I learned that good theory is very practical.

Thank you very much for being such courteous listeners. 

Dragoslav D. Šiljak

For fundamental contributions to the theory of large-scale systems, decentralized control, and parametric approach to robust stability

Dragoslav D. Šiljak received his doctorate degree (D.Sc.) in Electrical Engineering from the University of Belgrade, Serbia, in 1963. He joined the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Santa Clara University in 1964, where he is presently the Benjamin and Mae Swig University Professor. 

Text of Acceptance Speech: 

July 1, 2010. Baltimore, MD

I am exceedingly happy to receive the Richard Bellman Control Heritage Award. I am thankful to the American Automatic Control Council for recognizing my work as worthy of this award, and I am deeply humbled when I consider the previous recipients of the award.

My first thanks go to my dear wife Dragana who put up for a long time with a workaholic husband with an oversized ambition. I am grateful to Santa Clara University and, in particular, to the School of Engineering for providing institutional support to our research. I am exceedingly thankful to many people from all around the world who came to Santa Clara to work on our projects as fellow researchers on an exploratory journey; and what a journey it has been!

At this occasion, it gives me a great pleasure to recall my visit to University of Southern California and my brief encounter with Professor Bellman. After my talk, he invited me to his office, and among myriad of his interests, he chose to talk with me about his recent work in Pharmacokinetics. At that time, I was deeply into the competitive equilibrium in economics, and we had a very stimulating discussion on the connection of the two fields via the Metzler matrix which I have been using since then in a wide variety of models to this very day.

Looking at this award in a prudential light, my obtaining this award is as much a compliment to the Control Council as it is to me. My winning of this award at Santa Clara University, which is not a research 1 university but prides itself as an excellent teaching institution, proves that the system is open, and that any of you wherever you are can win this award solely by the merit of your research.

I recall when at eighteen I made the Yugoslav Olympic Water Polo Team for the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. We won all our games except the final one, which ended in a draw. At that time, there were no overtimes and penalty kicks; the winner was determined by the cumulative goal ratio. I continued playing water polo, but did not make the team for the 1956 Melbourne games; I broke my right hand and stayed home. I kept playing on and in 1960 made the team for the Rome Olympics. We did not win a medal in Rome, let alone the gold. At that point I was already a committed researcher in control systems. I continued the research for many years and to borrow from a song by Neil Young:

"I kept searching for a heart of gold, and I was getting old ... "

Today I found a heart of gold. Thank you all very much for your attention, and God bless!