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Peak performance through controls

The General Atomics (GA) maglev concept uses simple, passive magnets for levitation and a linear synchronous motor mounted on the track provides propulsion and guidance. The 21st International Conference on Magnetically Levitated Systems and Linear Drives will be hosted by General Atomics and UCSD in 2008 in San Diego, CA.
The General Atomics (GA) maglev concept uses simple, passive magnets for levitation and a linear synchronous motor mounted on the track provides propulsion and guidance. The 21st International Conference on Magnetically Levitated Systems and Linear Drives will be hosted by General Atomics and UCSD in 2008 in San Diego, CA.

When MAE professor Miroslav Krstic isn't devising techniques that boost the performance of everything from fusion reactors to high speed trains that levitate above magnetic tracks, he dreams of cars. Not just any cars. He likes the models that are souped-up with the types of control algorithms he and his colleagues at UCSD have been developing for a decade.

"I admit that it is amazing to see the Toyota Prius's 60-miles-per-gallon efficiency, which is achieved largely with the aid of control systems," says Krstic. "I also like the BMW M5's many controls, including those in the transmission that allow an average driver to downshift around a tight curve and reaccelerate more smoothly than the best professional driver without the technology. Such active control techniques are propagating from luxury, high-performance models to more inexpensive cars.

Krstic is putting the Jacobs School on the fast track to industrial partnerships by leading the newly organized Center for Control Systems and Dynamics (CCSD).

CCSD's industrial partners will design research projects to solve their specific control problems, and they also get a seat on the center's advisory board. The center was started in October 2006 with start-up funding for the first two years from Jacobs School dean Frieder Seible. Its long-term financing will come from industry in the form of annual dues, 80 percent of which will be assigned to specific research projects that have been mutually agreed to by company engineers and UCSD faculty. Participating companies eager to recruit talented graduates will also have access to a database of student resumes.

Krstic and 21 fellow UCSD faculty members are independently pursuing projects as diverse as autonomous control of unmanned aircraft, sophisticated trading strategies involving stock options, and systems biology in which interactions of metabolic pathways in cells are similar to non-biological processes.

MAE professor Miroslav Krstic
"The field of controls has matured to the point where we can now apply what we are learning to almost anything you can think of, including cell biology or traction, stability, and engine controls in vehicles." óMIROSLAV KRSTIC
Killer Bee UAV courtesy Northrop Grumman Corporation. Faculty members in the Control Systems and Dynamics Center plan to work on a number of industrial applications such as navigation control of unmanned planes.
Killer Bee UAV courtesy Northrop Grumman Corporation. Faculty members in the Control Systems and Dynamics Center plan to work on a number of industrial applications such as navigation control of unmanned planes.

"The field of controls has matured to the point where we can now apply what are learning from fusion reactors and maglev (magnetic levitation) trains to almost anything you can think of, including cell biology or traction, stability, and engine controls in vehicles," says Krstic, author of four books on nonlinear, adaptive, and flow control.

The center's primary focus on preparing students is evident in the list of controls classes offered at the Jacobs School, including 10 undergraduate and 14 graduate courses. The Jacobs School provides more controls classes than any other university in the country. The classes are taught by 17professors from the Jacobs School , three from the department of mathematics, and one each from the departments of cognitive science and physics.

With so many faculty members teaching classes that attract many of the brightest students in the country, Krstic says a "critical mass" of expertise and talent made the establishment of the center an imperative. "Raising the stature of this group to that of a center will allow us to continue to attract students of high caliber," he says. "We'll also be better positioned to compete for federal research grants, and collaborate on a larger scale with more California companies."

The center's faculty members are focusing their research on communication systems and networks, seismic protection, aerospace and marine systems, and sensor networks, to name a few. In a less obvious example, controls can be applied to atomic force microscopy by dampening unwanted movements of the device's micro scale tip as it glides along the surface of a material used in a nanotechnology application.

"We've only begun to apply what our faculty members themselves have developed," says Krstic. "This new center will enlarge their practical expertise to a growing list of important industrial applications."