Baillieul to Deliver College’s First Distinguished Lecture


“Control engineering pervades all of modern technology – from aircraft flight control systems, to electronic stability programs in automobiles, to the control of particle beams traveling at the speed of light in the $4.5 billion large hadron collider, to a great many more applications,” says Professor John Baillieul (AME).

He will delve into a discussion of several such concepts related to control theory in his March 5 lecture “The Evolving Applications of Control Theory to Devices, Networks and Life Itself.”

The event will be the inaugural Distinguished Lecture at the College of Engineering. Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen named Baillieul the College’s first Distinguished Lecturer in December. The honor accompanies the opportunity for Baillieul to speak on a topic of his choosing at a public lecture.

“The goal for this talk is to say some things that are known, and then talk about some of the things that are the great mysteries remaining to be discovered,” said Baillieul. He plans to discuss a range of topics, from the study of human-robot interactions to the failure mechanisms of biological networks.

The level of interaction between humans and machines will continue to increase, as machines take over more roles, and as the Department of Defense works towards a government mandate to make a third of all deployed military vehicles autonomous by 2015, said Baillieul. More frequent and prolonged human-machine interactions will raise issues of cognitive psychology, including trying to predict how people and machines will react to each other and how they can most effectively work together.

Biological regulatory networks and ways in which they fail, despite generally robust function, is another area intriguing to Baillieul.

“One of the great open questions is that biological networks actually do fail. One of the things that is a reality about life is death – the fact that for sustaining life over generations and eons, all life runs its course and then ceases, is very interesting,” he said. “This plasticity — the adaptability that biological systems have, may be, in some sense, tied to the fact that they only operate for a while and then cease to function.”

Baillieul will also discuss abstraction, network control systems, recent advances in control theory stimulated by technological advances, and results from his own work in robotics, control of mechanical systems and mathematical system theory.

Bailliuel’s Distinguished Lecture will take place on March 5, at 4 p.m. in the Life Sciences & Engineering Building, 24 Cummington Street, Room B01. The event is open to the public.