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Researcher receives lifetime achievement award for contributions to control theory

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Robert Bitmead will receive the Oldenburger Medal in San Antonio this fall.

San Diego, Calif., June 10, 2014 -- Robert Bitmead, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego, fell in love with control theory as a third-year applied mathematics major at the University of Sydney in 1974. This fall, he will head out to San Antonio to receive the Rufus Oldenburger medal, a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, for his significant contributions in the field.

Bitmead received the award “for sustained contributions in theory and applications to joint system modeling and control design; for work that has had major impact on modeling predictive control and controller certification based on experimental data.”

He remains humble, much like the technology he practices and teaches.

Control theory is often called “the hidden technology,” Bitmead explains. “The more perfectly a control system works, the less you notice it.”

During his career, Bitmead has applied control theory to everything from sugar mills, to aircraft engines, to telecommunications. It’s all the same, he explained: sensors take measurements of the physical environment and then the control system drives inputs to regulate and manage many different systems that interact with that environment.  Cruise control in cars is probably the best example of a control system that everyone would be familiar with, Bitmead said.

Essentially, a control system figures out how much gas your car needs in order to stay at a certain speed despite terrain changes, after measuring the current speed. In the same way, a control system throttles power on your cell phone to conserve battery while still allowing for the phone to transmit voice and digital data reliably.

He has a long history of collaborative research with U.S. and Australian industries, such as sugar mills, steel and aerospace. “I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to get involved in applications in such a wide range of applied problems,” he said. He is at work on power control systems for the telecommunications industry, as well as smart grid systems. Specifically, he is investigating how to use the sometimes-unreliable information provided by forecasts to manage energy consumption and production.

At the Jacobs School of Engineering he has held the Cymer Endowed Chair in High Performance Dynamical Systems Modeling and Control since 2002. Many alumni from his research group have gone on to work for the company.

The Oldenburger medal is the highpoint of the many awards Bitmead has received. He served as an IEEE Control Systems Society Distinguished lecturer from 2001 to 2006. He was elected a fellow of the International Federal of Automatic Control in 2005; a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1999; and an IEEE fellow in 1991.

Before joining the Jacobs School in 1999, Bitmead was on faculty in the Department of Systems Engineering at The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. He holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Newcastle, Australia. 

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Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-0899
ipatrin@ucsd.edu

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