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Robotics and Controls


Dr. Joshua Vaughan is leading the efforts within the Mechanical Engineering Department related to robotics and controls.  Dr. Joshua Vaughan obtained his undergraduate degree from Hampden-Sydney College in 2002, double-majoring in Physics and Applied Mathematics. Dr. Vaughan received his M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2004 and continued there to receive his Ph.D. in 2008. He served as a postdoc for a short time at Georgia Tech, then spent one year at Tokyo Institute of Technology as a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Vaughan’s research includes a variety of controls and robotics related work, including vibration control, input shaping, crane control, human-machine interfaces, autonomous vehicles, and the design an control of robots for inspection, rescue, and manufacturing.


Dr. Vaughan and his research group in the CRAWLAB are working on a broad range of projects. A number of the projects are grounded in the theme of utilizing flexibility as a design advantage. Dr. Vaughan and his research group are developing concurrent design processes for combinations of feedback control systems, command generation methods, and the mechanical design objectives. The advanced controls systems developed by his group allow systems to be designed with much more flexibility than in the past. This means that systems can be designed that are lighter and more energy efficient, while having higher performance.

Another long range interest of Dr. Vaughan’s is better understanding the relationship between the human operator and the control system. Most systems in the world still need some form of human interaction. There are some initial results that suggest there are differences in the control-system compatibility with human operators, even for control systems whose “textbook” analysis is nearly identical. Understanding of this interaction is going to increase in importance as we continue to integrate semi-autonomous systems into society.

Current Projects

In one current project, Dr. Vaughan and his group are exploring the advantages of leg flexibility in walking, running, and jumping robots. Until very recently, most legged robots were designed such that their legs were very rigid. This leads to rigid ground contact during locomotion, which results in substantial energy loss. However, most biological organisms do no work this way. For example, humans utilize muscles as both springs and actuators, particularly when running or jumping. Dr. Vaughan and his research team are developing generalized design procedures for flexible-legged robots, while developing advanced controllers that leverage the new leg designs for even higher performance.

Another project, funded by the Board of Regents’ Support Fund Industrial Ties for Research Subprogram, partners with C & C Technologies. One primary surveying tool of C & C Technologies is the Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV), which are often launched and retrieved from larger ocean-going vessels using a crane-based system. Both the efficiency and safety of the launch-and-retrieval system are limited by the oscillation induced by a combination of the crane’s intended motion and disturbances resulting from ocean and weather conditions. The primary objective of this project is the advancement of crane-control techniques to include the reduction of oscillation resulting from the large disturbances common to the ship-mounted ASV launch-and-retrieval system. This will enable safer and more efficient ASV operations.

Dr. Vaughan is also working with the Japanese startup company, HiBot, exploring the design and control of cable-driven parallel manipulators for robotic inspection and maintenance. In one project, funded by the Board of Regents’ Support Fund Industrial Ties for Research Subprogram, Dr. Vaughan's research group and HiBot are working to develop robots for inspection of metallic vertical surfaces, such as those found on large chemical storage tanks and ship hulls. In a related project, directly funded by HiBot, Dr. Vaughan and his group are designing control systems for cable-suspended-and-driven robots for use in the inspection and maintenance of skyscrapers and bridges.

Past Projects

In a past project, Dr. Vaughan has also worked with Swiftships LLC, a Morgan City-based shipbuilder, to develop an autonomous control architecture for their boats. The work was focused on the Anaconda, a high-performance boat designed for riverine operations.

In another past project, Dr. Vaughan worked with Professional Arts Pharmacy to automate the evacuation of a large number of tubes, similar in size and shape to traditional toothpaste tubes.

ARLISS at UL Lafayette

Dr. Vaughan also founded UL Lafayette team for ARLISS, A Rocket Launch for International Student Satellites. Initial seed funding for the project was provided by the Louisiana Space Grant (LaSPACE), leading to annual UL Lafayette entries in ARLISS since 2014. ARLISS is an initiative to provide students with hands-on experience in the design, construction, and launch of space systems. It is held on the Black Rock Desert in Nevada every September, when the members of the AERO-PAC rocket club provide rockets to launch the student satellites. The student projects are not actually launched into space, but rather to approximately 12,000 feet. From this height, the student-designed systems must autonomously navigate to a predetermined target location on the desert. In addition to providing students with an opportunity to compete in an interesting event, this project also serves as an additional test scenario for mobile robot and autonomous navigation research.