Russ Tedrake named to inaugural Toyota Professorship

Monday, May 8, 2017 - 11:00am

Russ Tedrake, a faculty member in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), has been named as the inaugural chair holder of the Toyota Professorship

The appointment was announced in May 2017 by Anantha Chandrakasan, EECS department head and Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Ian Waitz, Dean of the School of Engineering. “The appointment recognizes Professor Tedrake's leadership in the area of robotics and his outstanding mentorship and educational contributions,” Chandrakasan and Waitz wrote in a message to faculty. “Professor Tedrake is internationally well-known in the field of robotics, and is widely respected for his theoretical, algorithmic, and experimental contributions to the field.

Tedrake’s research focuses on developing optimization-based algorithms for planning, feedback control, and analysis of complex dynamic robots that can walk, run, and fly through unstructured environments. His work leverages the observation that the equations of motion of these robots, constrained by mechanics, have special structure. By finding new connections between convex optimization and the mathematical models of, for example, frictional contact mechanics, he has been able to make seemingly intractable problems in robot feedback control become tractable.

Tedrake's algorithmic results have led to impressive demonstrations on real hardware. His algorithms enabled the first successful demonstrations of high-speed (post-stall) perching for fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); his small airplanes could land on a perch like a bird. More recently, his team has developed bird-sized UAVs that can dart through trees at more than 30 mph, guided by a provably robust feedback motion planning engine. He also led MIT's entry in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, demonstrating optimization-based perception, planning, and feedback control for a complex humanoid that had to drive a car, open doors, turn valves, pick up and operate power tools, and walk across rough terrain and up stairs.

Tedrake has been a leader in organizing robotics activities across campus. He started the Robotics@MIT seminar series and the Robotics@MIT Student Conference, and serves as faculty advisor for many of the robotics student groups and projects at MIT.

"Professor Tedrake has made truly outstanding contributions to both graduate and undergraduate education both on and off campus,” Chandrakasan and Waitz wrote. “His Underactuated Robotics course was one of the first two graduate courses to be put on edX, with a current enrollment exceeding 20,000 students, and his course notes and open-source software are widely known in the robotics community.” Tedrake has also been instrumental in updating the core controls and signal processing curriculum, and has been recognized with both the Jerome H. Saltzer Award and the Ruth and Joel Spira Award for his undergraduate teaching.