SELECTED PROJECTS (See my CV for a complete list)

Secure Algorithms for Cloud-Connected Autonomous Robots Interacting with Humans

This project addresses security and reliability issues for cloud-connected systems comprising autonomous robots and humans. The scenario is considered where autonomous robots cooperatively perform a complex task, such as search and rescue, intruder detection and tracking, and climate mapping. Robots are connected to the cloud, through which they also receive sporadic and high-level feedback from human operators. Synergy of human cognition and robot capabilities has the potential to enable the completion of tasks that could not be performed by humans and robots alone, provided that appropriate mechanisms are in place to ensure trustworthy cooperation among different parts, and reliable autonomous operation in the face of failures and malicious tampering. This project will undertake the first major steps along this direction by (i) deriving dynamical models of cloud-connected autonomous systems and their vulnerabilities, (ii) designing new tools to ensure security and reliable operation in the face of different attacks, and (iii) demonstrating the effectiveness of the proposed methods to work in practice through simulations and experiments. 

Funded by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS). PI: F. Pasqualetti (UCR), co-PI: R. G. Sanfelice (UCSC)

Strong Consistency in Dynamic Wireless Networks to Enable Safe and Efficient Navigation of Autonomous Vehicles

The objectives of this project are to determine consistency requirements of distributed systems with smart storage devices over realistic networks and design algorithms that assure needed consistency, and to develop an open source software to implement the algorithms in the context of safe operation of autonomous vehicles to provide consistent data. Additionally, an open source hybrid dynamics simulation engine capable of simulating large scale environments with multi-agent systems will be developed. It is believed that future services like unmanned-traffic management will depend upon strong consistency for safe operation. These services will often need to be provided over lossy wireless networks with limited bandwidth, where partitions may be frequent. We propose to study the consistency requirements of distributed systems with smart storage devices over realistic networks. In particular, the distributed systems will implement algorithms that require large amounts of (dynamically changing) data that is available to all systems via a shared log. The problem of navigation of autonomous systems will serve as the prototype application of this research.

The simulation engine can be found here

Funded by the Center for Research in Open Source Software (CROSS). PI: R. G. Sanfelice 

NSF CPS: Synergy: Collaborative Research: Computationally Aware Cyber-Physical Systems

The objective of this work is to generate new fundamental science for cyber-physical systems (CPSs) that enables more accurate and faster trajectory synthesis for controllers with nonlinear plants, or nonlinear constraints that encode obstacles. The approach is to utilize hybrid control to switch between models whose accuracy is normalized by their computational burden. This synergistic approach is why we deem our proposed work will enable Computationally Aware Cyber-Physical Systems. The results from this project will advance the knowledge on modeling, analysis, and design of CPSs that utilize predictive methods for trajectory synthesis under constraints. Current algorithm designs seldom include the computational limitations of the hardware/software on which they are implemented as explicit constraints; thus, a challenge is to correctly approximate (or account for) how these constraints can be overcome for real-time systems. The results will include methods for the design of algorithms that adapt to the computational limitations of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems that must satisfy stringent timing and safety requirements. For this purpose, we propose tools capable of accounting for computational capabilities in real-time, and hybrid feedback algorithms that include prediction schemes exploiting computational capabilities to arrive at more accurate predictions, within the time constraints. The problem space will draw from models of Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) in the National Air Space (NAS); algorithms will be modeled in terms of hybrid dynamical systems, to guarantee dynamical properties of interest.

Funded by National Science Foundation under Grant no. CNS-1544396. PIs: R. G. Sanfelice and J. M. Sprinkle.


AFOSR: Reconfigurable Algorithms for High Performance and Robust Autonomy in Complex Networks

This project aims to generate new tools for the design of decentralized observers and controllers that not only confer high performance and robustness, but also efficiently handle the presence of continuous and discrete behavior in complex networks. The methods to emerge from the proposed research target communication and control scenarios for Air Force systems in which digital networks define the links between the agents, information is limited, adversarial behavior is at its utmost, and uncertainty is predominant. The algorithms to be developed with the new methods will combine hybrid estimation strategies to identify the behavior of the adversaries with hybrid control strategies for synchronization of multi-agent systems so as to reconfigure and control the agents. The fundamental research in this proposal pertains to the design of hybrid state observers and synchronization algorithms for hybrid systems, which are wide open areas of research. The outcomes of this research effort will permit Air Force’s autonomous systems to satisfy the stringent requirements imposed by its missions, in particular, the accomplishment of a common goal by relying only on noisy and intermittent measurements transmitted over heterogeneous networks.

Funded by Air Force Office of Scientific Research under Grant no. FA9550-16-1-0015. PI: R. G. Sanfelice.


NSF CAREER: Enabling Design of Future Smart Grids via Input/Output Hybrid Systems Tools

The increasing necessity of producing more energy, combined with the surging interest in green technologies worldwide, have promoted the need for a highly reliable, cost-efficient, and self-sustained electric power grid. Future energy distribution systems ought to be capable of interconnecting diverse power sources, including fossil and nuclear-fueled generators; renewable sources, such as hydropower generators, photovoltaic arrays, and wind turbines; storage systems, such as fuel cells, compressed-air devices, and flywheels; and power quality improvement units. The purpose of this project is to enable the design of such future smart grid systems using hybrid systems theory. Hybrid systems are dynamical systems with intertwined continuous and discrete behavior. Such a mixed behavior is embodied in models of smart microgrids and their interconnections due to continuous changes as well as jumps in currents and voltages, i.e., mainly due to controlled switches, failures, and modeling approximations. The approach taken in this project is to interpret smart grid systems as the interconnection of hybrid systems with inputs and outputs to facilitate partitioning of the entire system into small, tractable components suitable for modular analysis and design. Such a “divide and conquer” approach relies upon the existence of a theory of interconnections of systems and on constructive control design tools that guarantee robustness and optimality. The goals of this project aim at generating these much needed control and optimization theoretical tools for input/output hybrid system models emerging in smart grids. These new tools will enable modular design of components that operate robustly and optimally when interconnected in real-world smart grids, such as the smart microgrid testbed at Sandia National Laboratories, in which results from this project will be tested. The proposed research plan is deeply integrated with teaching and training activities that will significantly impact middle and high school education levels by training instructors and students on control engineering and applications to smart grids.

Funded by National Science Foundation under CAREER Grant no. ECS-1150306. PI: R. G. Sanfelice.


AFOSR YIP: Robust Feedback Control of Reconfigurable Multi-agent Systems in Uncertain Adversarial Environments


To fulfill the stringent requirements of its missions, Air Force combat systems require autonomous systems that are agile, reliable, and resilient. Emerging technologies permitting cooperation of multiple autonomous systems are suitable for the accomplishment of Air Force missions since, rather than relying on a single agent, they leverage task assignment complexity and redundancy by coordinating multiple systems. However, the presence of adversarial elements and uncertainty in the environment impose significant challenges to the design of such systems. In particular, they impose stringent requirements on the coordination and communication algorithms used for the control of multi-agent systems. This project advocates that such requirements can be met by nonlinear state observers and hybrid controllers for multi-agent systems that explicitly take into account the potential presence of adversaries and uncertainty in the environment. To this effect, a control theoretical approach and the combination of state observers and hybrid control tools are pursued for the design of decentralized and robust algorithms for multi-agent systems. The main purpose of using decentralized estimation algorithms is to leverage the presence of multiple agents in the environment to substantially improve the estimation of the adversaries' state by averaging and sharing information. To this effect, design tools for multiple state observers with adaptation to perturbations will be generated. The main purpose of using hybrid control algorithms is due to their suitability in the execution of decision-making strategies for rapid reconfiguration of the agents and stabilization of complex dynamics. The methods to emerge from the results of project target the following communication and control missions for Air Force systems in which adversarial behavior is at its utmost, information is limited, and uncertainty is predominant: beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) communication and control, electronic warfare (EW) in the battlefield, and emergency management in disaster response.

Funded by Air Force Office of Scientific Research under Grant no. FA9550-12-1-0366, Young Investigator Program. PI: R. G. Sanfelice.


Honeywell: Robust Decision-making Control for Autonomous Recovery of Aerospace Vehicles under Sensor Limitations and Failures

Budget constraints limit the number of sensors that can be integrated in the avionics of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Sensor failures can prevent avionics from autonomously controlling a UAV and hence, may lead to unstability. Such budget constraints and unexpected failures can be addressed by adaptive/self-configuring avionics for UAVs. The development of such avionic systems require advanced control algorithms executing decision-making strategies designed to cope with a limitation in the number of sensors as well as with abrupt changes of sensor data. In this project, we propose to design algorithms that estimate the state of the system with limited number of measured quantities, perhaps due to cost limitations or failures, and use those estimates to select the appropriate controller to apply to the vehicle. The understanding of the minimum number of sensors needed in control of UAVs and the margins of robustness to sensor failures will provide key insight for the development of fault tolerant, cost-efficient UAVs.

Funded by Honeywell. PI: R. G. Sanfelice.


AFRL/AFOSR STTR: Interference and Jamming Mitigation in Satellite Communications Using Spectrum Sensing and Dynamic Frequency Hopping

Due to their capabilities to reconfigure and adapt to changing environments, spectrum-agile software-defined radios (a.k.a. cognitive radios or CRs) are ubiquitous in a variety of military and commercial applications. These systems provide a much needed solution for improving the spectral efficiency of under-utilized portions of the licensed spectrum as well as to battle adversarial agents attempting to disrupt communication networks. In this project, we consider a novel application of the CR technology for secure satellite communications and apply hybrid control methods to achieve frequency rendezvous of the CRs and to optimize the signal to interference plus noise ratio (SINR) of the network in the presence of adversaries.

Funded by AFRL and by AFOSR's STTR Program. PI: M. Krunz, co-PI: R. G. Sanfelice.


Mathworks: Attitude Control for Optimal Generation of Energy From Multiple Energy Sources

As renewable energy becomes more widely available, a need for autonomous and standalone systems in remote locations will increase. However, the margins for energy collection are still low; the most efficient solar cells only achieve 40% efficiency. To maximize energy collection, it is necessary to create smart controllers to achieve optimal energy collection and minimize operational power requirements. In this project, we propose to generate a prototype and associated algorithms for control education using Matlab/Simulink based on energy generation from solar and wind sources. It consists of a computer-controlled collector of solar and wind energy sources. The educational integration of this project will be in three control education courses in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Arizona. The introduction of this real-life renewable energy challenge in these courses will provide a practical application to solve using classroom theory.

Pan/Tilt Motion Control System website: 

The Pan/Tilt Motion Control System has already been used in projects within the following courses: AME427AME455, and AME549.

Funded by Mathworks. PI: R. G. Sanfelice.