Professor Maruthi Akella was selected to receive the prestigious Mechanics and Control of Flight (MCF) award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) "for far-reaching theoretical and practical advances in aircraft/spacecraft guidance, navigation and control, particularly nonlinear attitude estimation and control."
An engraved medal and a certificate of citation will be presented to Akella at the AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition in January 2014. Dr. Christopher D'Souza of the NASA Johnson Space Center nominated Akella for the award.
"I totally enjoy the research I do and although I don't wake up hoping to win awards it still feels very humbling to see that your peers value the work you do and the meaningful impact you're making on the field," Akella said.
Each year the AIAA MCF award is presented to an individual who has made an outstanding recent technical or scientific contribution in the area of mechanics, guidance or control of flight in space or the atmosphere. Past recipients of the award include Professor Byron Tapley, director of The Center of Space Research at The University of Texas at Austin, Richard Battin of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Robert Stengel of Princeton University and Jason Speyer of UCLA.
"This award is highly competitive and represents deserved recognition of the impact that Maruthi's work has had on the field of flight system controls," Noel Clemens, ASE/EM department chair and professor said. "Previous winners of this award include individuals who have reached the pinnacle of their fields including members of the National Academy of Engineering and Distinguished Fellows of professional societies. Maruthi is in good company and I fully expect him to become equal in stature to the members of this elite group."
Motivated by the rapid emergence of smaller satellites and micro aerial vehicles, Akella began work on the nonlinear dynamics of attitude control systems about seven years ago while addressing very important practical challenges such as stringent fuel and power limits, computational constraints, communication bottlenecks, and uncertainties due to the operating environment. Guided by a core philosophy that not all nonlinearities are automatically bad, his research provides a comprehensive mathematical foundation for this subject area. The resulting algorithms have broad applicability by allowing distributed spacecraft systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and vision-guided robotics to precisely point at specified target objects, and by guiding their motions in a stable and efficient manner.
Akella's nonlinear attitude estimation and control solutions have resulted in a radically new way for making inertial measurements through a sensor swarm concept that is now being used by NASA. His attitude control algorithms are also playing a central role within the European Union's QB-50 program that is placing an international network of 50 CubeSats for long-duration lower thermosphere research.
"We are working on impactful problems and the community recognizes it. At the end of the day that is what engineers are here to do – to solve problems that help society and improve the quality of life." Akella said.