Mark W. Spong

Dean, Erik Jonsson School of Engineering & Computer Science
Lars Magnus Ericsson Chair in Electrical Engineering


972-883-2974 | |


Previous Position

Recent Recognition

Objectives as Dean

“Building on a successful $240 million expansion fueled by support from the school’s constituents and friends, I am dedicated to producing significant increases in enrollment, educational offerings and research. I’m particularly committed to further expanding our relationship with industry and to increasing the tangible benefits we provide to both our industry partners and the local economy. Ultimately, though, I’m here for one simple reason: This is one of the most dynamic and promising schools of its kind anywhere in the country today.”

Research Summary

Nonlinear control theory with particular emphasis on applications in robotics. Recent investigations include passivity-based control in telerobotics, synchronization and coordination of networked robotic agents, and bipedal locomotion.

Research Details

Telemanipulation in Multi-Robot Networks
Addressing fundamental issues in communication, coordination and teleoperated control of multiple agents in coordinated manipulation tasks. The combination of teleoperation and manipulation along with multi-robot coordination is, in fact, one of the novel aspects of this research. While multi-agent coordination and control problems such as swarming, flocking and rendezvous have been studied by several researchers, much less work has gone into the teleoperated control of multi-robot networks, especially when the multi-robot network is expected to engage in tasks involving both manipulation and motion coordination. Manipulation tasks require haptic and force feedback, which introduce significant stability and transparency problems with respect to communication delay, packet loss and other communication effects.

Tasks such as remote construction, search and rescue, salvage operations, and telesurgery are too complex at the present time to be carried out by fully autonomous robots but may be carried out by networks of semi-autonomous robots, coordinated by human operators and providing sensory data back to the human operators.

Passivity-Based Control in Bipedal Locomotion
This project investigates passivity-based control in bipedal locomotion. In recent years, passivity-based control has proven to be one of the most powerful design methodologies for the control of electromechanical systems such as robot manipulators, underwater vehicles, induction motors, and automotive and aerospace systems. With a few exceptions the application of these methods to walking robots and other systems with impacts has not been adequately investigated. The project explores several extensions of bipedal locomotion in the context of passivity-based hybrid nonlinear control. The project investigates speed regulation, the use of alternate potential functions to increase the basins of attraction of stable limit cycles, the effect of control saturation and under actuation in passivity-based control, and the efficiency of passivity-based control methods compared to true energy optimal control. It will also investigate passivity-based control of gait transitions, including starting and stopping.

The goal, and the technical merit of the project, is to help solidify the foundations of the field through analysis, development of new concepts and the design of provably correct control algorithms. Another aspect of the project is to integrate the theoretical tools of passivity-based analysis and control with studies of balance and locomotion in human subjects in order to supplement the descriptive research typical in those studies with more analytical methods. The practical application of this research project is on the design of walking robots that have improved performance capabilities over existing machines. The analysis and design tools developed in this project will also contribute to a better understanding of human locomotion, which will result in applications in biomechanics and biomedicine such as the design of improved prosthetic devices, the development of fall-prevention programs for the elderly and rehabilitation techniques.

Reliable and Robust Control of Formations of Unmanned Vehicles
This project is developing reliable and robust control architectures and algorithms for networks of autonomous aerial and ground vehicles. The aim is to develop control laws that 1) have low sensitivity to noisy and lossy data communication among vehicles; 2) are scalable in terms of number of vehicles; and 3) have the ability to handle discrete transitions in the network, such as formation reconfiguration and the addition or loss of vehicles from the formation. Applications of this work include undersea and planetary exploration, search and rescue, air traffic control, and control of sensor networks. Both theoretical and experimental issues are being investigated.


In addition to more than 200 technical articles in control and robotics, Dean Spong is co-author of four books: