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4th Harry Nicholson Distinguished Lecture in Control Engineering

"Control systems and networks from the feedback amplifier to Formula One Racing"

Delivered by:  Professor Malcolm C. Smith, University of Cambridge


Malcolm C. Smith is Professor of Control Engineering and Head of the Control Group in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge.  His research interests are in the areas of robust control, nonlinear systems, electrical and mechanical networks, and automotive applications. He is well-known for his invention of the inerter mechanical device currently used in Formula One motor racing and elsewhere.  He received degrees in mathematics and control engineering from Cambridge University, England.   He was subsequently a Research Fellow at the German Aerospace Centre, Oberpfaffenhofen, a Visiting Assistant Professor and Research Fellow with the Department of Electrical Engineering at McGill University, Montreal, and an Assistant Professor with the Department of Electrical Engineering, Ohio State University, Columbus, before returning to Cambridge in 1990 as a Lecturer in Engineering.  Professor Smith is a Fellow of the IEEE and the Royal Academy of Engineering.  He received the 1992 and 1999 George Axelby Best Paper Awards, in the IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control, both times for joint work with T.T. Georgiou.  He received the 2009 Sir Harold Hartley Medal of the Institute of Measurement and Control for outstanding contributions to the technology of measurement and control.

Abstract and background:

The talk will trace the close interaction between control theory and networks from the 1920s to the present day. The talk will begin by reviewing the classical pillars of both subjects: the network synthesis theorems of Foster, Brune and others, the invention of the feedback amplifier and the foundations of classical control.  Aspects of the post-war development of these subjects, including those leading to H-infinity control, will be discussed.  A recent study of active control and passivity, which led to the invention of a new mechanical network element - the inerter, will be described. The development of the inerter and its widespread deployment in Formula One motor racing and elsewhere will be reported. The talk will conclude by describing some unsolved problems in classical network theory, which are brought to the fore again through the inerter and mechanical network synthesis, and will present some recent insights and new results on these problems.

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