Ali Jadbabaie, Ph.D. Control and Dynamical Systems
What makes birds fly in flocks and fish swim in schools? And
once you know the answer, can you use it to make unmanned airplanes fly in
groups? These issues fall into the area of control systems, the focus of Dr.
Ali Jadbabaies research.
Dr. Jadbabaie is an assistant professor in the Department of
Electrical and Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and a
member of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab
(http://grasp.upenn.edu) at the university.
Dr. Jadbabaie got his Ph.D. at Caltech in control and dynamical
systems. He then worked as a postdoc on the KDI-funded project Coordinated
Motion of Natural and Man-Made Groups. Under the direction of the
projects principal investigator, Dr. Stephen Morse from Yale, the
multi-disciplinary team of control theorists, marine biologists, and
evolutionary biologists researched how natural groupingsswarms of bees
and herds of deer, for examplecoordinate themselves and move flawlessly,
usually without an obvious leader or form of centralized control. "The
biologists were studying different species of animals," says Dr. Jadbabaie,
"and they were trying to understand what the evolutionary advantages were for
the animals to move in a group or flock. We (the control theorists) were trying
to see, from a mathematical point of view, how its possible to have a
stable global behavior in the absence of global information exchange."
According to Dr. Jadbabaie, "In the course of doing the
literature survey, we realized that this problem is something that has been
studied one way or another across many different disciplines. People in control
theory, in computer graphics, and in statistical physics had all been looking at
the general problem of how it is that you can have a group of man-made or
natural agents interact with each other locally using simple, local information
and how a complicated global behavior emerges from this interaction."
The group was interested in studying this problem
rigorously, and with the help of Dr. Jadbabaies research, they were able
to explain the behavior they had observed. Models in physics as well as in
computer graphics had been used to explain how a group of moving objects with
only local interaction can reach consensus about what direction they want to go
in. The team provided a mathematical proof and justification for why this
happened and generalized it to several situations.
Dr. Jadbabaies work on the KDI project has led him to
continue studying group coordination, but now of man-made groups. He explains,
"Im interested in how we can develop a group of unmanned autonomous
vehicles, air vehicles or ground vehicles, that coordinate with each other
without centralized supervision." The military is very interested in this
research because of the trend toward unmanned military operations. Researchers
hope to have a group of airplanes interact with one another, with a human
providing only a high-level mission objective, a map, and periodic updates.
According to Dr. Jadbabaie, "On the surface, the problem of planes and birds
are very different, but if you study the mathematics behind it, you see that
they are related."
Currently, the military uses unmanned planes for
reconnaissance missions. But the direction of Dr. Jadbabaies research is,
first, to enable planes to work in a group and second, to use them for more
aggressive tasks. "The goal is that eventuallyover the next 1520
yearsyoud replace a squadron of jets with a squadron of unmanned
air vehicles," says Dr. Jadbabaie.
If you would like to learn more about Dr. Jadbabaies
work, you can visit the Web site of the GRASP Lab at
You can also visit Dr. Jadbabaies Web page at
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