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Engineering Seminar (20 Jan): High Performance Control Using Low-Performance Infrastructure

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Engineering Institute Lecture Series
Sponsored by EI, ASME, IEEE, ANS, and ASM


High Performance Control Using Low-Performance Infrastructure

Presented by Todd Murphey, Ph.D.

Northwestern University

Tuesday, January 20, 2015, 3:30 – 5:00 PM
Los Alamos Research Park, 2nd Floor, Conference Room 203A

Abstract: Robotic applications require real-time control for high-dimensional, nonlinear/nonsmooth systems operating in an uncertain environment, often with limited actuation, poor quality sensors, and low bandwidth.  Computational simulation tools have evolved in the last two decades to efficiently meet many of the associated needs, whereas computational control and estimation tools largely have not. This talk will focus on substantial progress towards bringing fully automated nonlinear control synthesis in software to robotics and other nonlinear applications. The first part of this talk will focus on the use of variational integrators in real-time, low-bandwidth systems. An example is an experimental system that uses sensing from a Kinect sensor for real-time, closed-loop nonlinear control in the Robot Operating System (ROS). The second part of the talk will be about how reformulating the control problem can lead to software that performs reliably for an array of nonlinear control systems. Specifically, there is a control problem that has an analytic feedback solution for general affine nonlinear systems. Moreover, it provides continuous-time control that is globally well-posed, inherits stability properties from classical linear techniques, and allows both control saturation and unilateral state constraints. Successful examples include many of the nonlinear benchmark systems used both in robotics and controls, including inversion of the cart-pendulum, the acrobot, the pendubot, and hopping loco-motion. Importantly, some of these examples can executed in real-time on a mobile phone running the Android operating system, indicating that real-time nonlinear control is feasible for many more systems than previously believed.

Biography:  Dr. Todd D. Murphey is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University. He received his B.S. degree in mathematics from the University of Arizona and the Ph.D. degree in Control and Dynamical Systems from the California Institute of Technology. His laboratory is part of the Neuroscience and Robotics Laboratory, and his research interests include computational methods for mechanics and real-time optimal control, physical networks, and information theory in physical systems. Honors include the National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2006, membership in the 2014-2015 DARPA/IDA Defense Science Study Group, and Northwestern’s Charles Deering McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence.  He created the Coursera online class “Everything Is The Same: Modeling Engineered Systems” in 2013 and is a Senior Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Robotics.

For more information, please contact the institutional host, Chuck Farrar,, 663-5330.


Friday, October 17th, 2014


Engineering Seminar (17 Dec): Wireless Sensor Node Development and Deployment on Wind Turbines and Telescopes

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Engineering Institute Lecture Series
Sponsored by the Engineering Institute, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and The American Nuclear Society


Title: Wireless Sensor Node Development and Deployment on Wind Turbines and Telescopes
Presented by: Stuart G. Taylor, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Time: 3:30 – 5:00 PM
Location: Los Alamos Research Park, 2nd Floor, Conference Room 203A

Abstract: This talk will cover the development of wireless sensor nodes in the Engineering Institute at LANL, including the Wireless Impedance Device (WID) and the Wireless Active Sensing Platform (WASP). These sensing platforms were specifically designed for Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) applications. Two sensor node deployment examples will also be discussed. In the first example, passive acceleration measurements are used to provide an indication of drive system failure in a high-performance robotic telescope. In the second example, active sensing measurement techniques are used to identify incipient fatigue crack damage in a composite wind turbine rotor blade.

Biography: Stuart G. Taylor received the B.S. and M.S. degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Houston in 2005 and 2007, respectively. He received the Ph.D. degree in structural engineering from the University of California, San Diego, in 2013. From 2007 to 2013, he was a graduate research assistant at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), during which time he designed and field-tested sensor nodes for structural health monitoring (SHM) and conducted research focusing on wind turbine rotor blade SHM as part of the Intelligent Wind Turbine (IWT) Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project at LANL. Dr. Taylor is currently a research and development engineer in the Applied Engineering and Technology division at LANL.

For more information contact the institutional host Chuck Farrar,, 663-5330.