24 May 2011

Harry Nicholson Distinguished Lecture in Control Engineering

Photographs from the event

The Department’s most prestigious event of the year has just taken place - the second Harry Nicholson Distinguished Lecture in Control Engineering. Emeritus Professor Dr R Isermann of the Institute of Automatic Control, Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany informed the 80-strong gathering about ‘On the Way to Accident Free Driving’.

Emeritus Professor Dr.-Ing. R Isermann was, for many years, Professor and Head of the Laboratory for Control Engineering and Process Automation, Institute of Automatic Control, Darmstadt University of Technology, Germany. His textbooks on Process Identification, Digital Control Systems, Adaptive Control Systems, Mechatronic Systems, Fault Diagnosis Systems, Engine Control and Vehicle Drive Dynamics Control are well known and highly regarded. He was an early champion of mechatronics and in the 2003 MIT Technology Review Magazine he was identified as one of the Top Ten representatives of emerging Technologies for the field of Mechatronics. Professor Isermann is the holder of many distinguished international awards for his innovative research and has held many important and influential positions promoting control engineering. He has served IFAC in many capacities and was Vice-President, 1996-2002. It was therefore an honour for the Department to secure his services to perform the second Harry Nicholson Distinguished Lecture in Control Engineering.

Professor Isermann’s lecture was ‘On the Way to Accident Free Driving’. Modern vehicles are increasingly influenced by electronics and many automatic control functions. A road map for driver assistance systems showed how the driver is supported by automatic stabilization, lane keeping, and in the future, by collision avoidance. Control engineering is at the heart of these developments. The presentation provided an example of a collision avoidance system arising from the results of the University -Industry research project "PRORETA". The first part of the example was a collision avoidance system for obstacles. The control function of automatic full braking and/or automatic swerving in the last possible moment was performed, when the driver did not react, by using a method based on the fusion of LIDAR and video camera signals. This was demonstrated in video clips. The second part of the example was a driver assistance system for overtaking maneuvers. By fusing the RADAR and video camera signals, an overtaking maneuver on rural roads with two lanes was predicted. In the case of dangerous situations first warnings were given and to avoid a crash, brakes were automatically applied on the vehicle such that the driver could take the car back behind the vehicle to be overtaken. Simulations and videos of real overtaking driving situations demonstrated the application of the new driver assistance prototypes.

The Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering was established in 1968 by Professor Harry Nicholson who was the Head of Department from 1968 to the late 1980s. Professor Nicholson was instrumental in initiating and further developing both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, in developing research programmes and, crucially, in appointing academic, technical and clerical staff. It was his vision of the relevance and potential of Control Systems Engineering as a distinct university subject area that enabled the Department to begin its journey to achieve the very high national and international profile that it has today. The Department therefore wished to honour Professor Nicholson by naming its Distinguished Lecture series after him.

The inaugural lecture took place in 2010 when Professor Frank Doyle III of the University of California, Santa-Barbara, presented on “Shedding Light on the Control of Circadian Rhythms: From Genes to Cells to Systems”.