Joel M. Esposito, Ph.D.

Professor Esposito

Systems Engineering Department


  • Sabbatical at Columbia University (Fall of AY 2015-2016)
  • Release of Matlab Toolbox for the iRobot Create 2 (Summer 2015)
  • USNA Takes 4th place on the Advanced Autonomous Navigation Challenge Course at IGVC 2015 (Summer 2015)
  • USNA Class of 1951 Faculty Research Excellence Award (Spring 2015)

Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 2002
M.S. University of Pennsylvania, 1999
B.S. Rutgers University, Magna Cum Laude 1997

Profile:  Joel Esposito is a Professor in the System Engineering Department at the United States Naval Academy.  He teaches courses in Robotics, Unmanned Vehicles, Computer Vision, Mechatronics and Feedback Control Systems.  He is the recipient of the 2010 USNA Rauoff Award for Excellence in Engineering Education, and the 2015 Class of 1951 Faculty Research Excellence Award; a former editor-in-chief of ASEE's Computers in Education Journal; and an ABET Program Evaluator.  His research focuses on the use of algorithmic and numerical tools for designing and analyzing mobile robot motion controllers, and has been supported by over $1 million in external funding.  He is the author of over 50 peer reviewed articles and conference proceedings and served on advisory panels for NSF, ONR, DoT, NASA, Office of the Secratary of Defense and the Marine Corps Intelligence Agency.   Prior to joining USNA in 2002, was a member of the GRASP Laboratory, working with Vijay Kumar.  During those years he contributed to a variety of DARPA projects, participated in the development of a programming language (CHARON), and held visiting appointments at Lockheed MartinSandia National Laboratories and Boston University

Academic Genealogy: Ferdinand Freudenstein --> Bernie Roth --> Kenneth Waldron -->  Vijay Kumar --> Joel Esposito

About USNA: The Naval Academy is a 4 year undergraduate institution conferring the Bachelors of Science degree in a variety of accredited majors. Historically the Academy has maintained a faculty composed of 50 percent civilian academics and 50 percent rotational military officers.  Students receive tuition waivers in exchange for a 5 year commitment to serve as an officer in the United States Navy or Marine Corps.  The ABET Accredited Systems Engineering program is the among the most popular majors at the Academy.  It is an applied feedback control systems major with upper level electives in embedded computing, communication systems and a four course concentration in robotics. 

Looking for someone else?  Perhaps you are looking from my wife's website?   She is a Dentist in Annapolis and Arnold, Maryland

Below you will find a short description and sample publication for each of the topic areas I have worked in.  See also my Research Statement and Publications.  

Sample Based Motion Planning as a Compressed Sensing Problem (NEW):    We hope to apply some of the latest optimization algorithms from the applied mathematics literature on compressed sensing to provide a theoretical foundation for why sampling based motion planning algorithms work so well in practice. This project is funded by ONR.

High Speed Collision Avoidance for Unmanned Surface Vessels: We are investigating real-time, high fidelity collision avoidance algorithms for marine vessels. The algorithms will account for uncertainty in the vehicle's mass and drag coefficients, and produce high confidence collision free trajectories. This project is funded by ONR.  Sample Publication: 

Tugs BargeCooperative Manipulation in Humans and Robots: We study how large groups of robots can work together to move big objects in concert, without relying on a centralized leader.  Army ants transporting prey provide a proof of concept in nature.   Our ultimate goal is to field a team of autonomous tug boats that can tow disabled ships.   Watch our video documentary or see our publications below for details.  This project was funded by ONR.  Sample publication:

Modeling Coverage Rates of Rapidly Exploring Random Trees: This popular robot motion planning algorithm can be used to vet complex control systems as well, by trying to find scenarios under which control software will fail -- exposing the bugs in the code. One of the goals of the project is to adapt the original algorithm for this purpose, and to predict the convergence rate of the algorithm. Here is a video of the algorithm discovering how an intruder can get past a team of robot security guards.   Sample Publication: 

Motion Planning For Network Connectivity (OLD): Imagine a large swarm of mobile robots that have to exchange information to complete their task.  Low power ad hoc wireless technologies such as BlueTooth and IR require that the sender and receiver are within a certain range of each other. In addition, signal strength improves if the sender and receiver maintain line of sight. These two constraints restrict how the entire group can move. VIDEO1VIDEO2,    Sample publication:

Numerical Methods and Modeling Languages for Hybrid Systems (OLD): Many physical systems are controlled by software based embedded computers, giving rise to so called hybrid systems -- systems with both continuous and discrete time dynamics.  I developed several numerical integration algorithms which can correctly and efficiently simulate such systems.   The algorithms were incorporated into the CHARON programming language and development envrionment.  Sample publication:

Sampling Based Motion Planning:

  • J.W. Kim, J.M. Esposito and V.Kumar, “RRT enhancements” International Journal of Robotics Research, Vol 15 Issue 12, p 1257-1272, Dec 2006

Swarm Cooperative Manipulation:

Multi-Robot (Swarm) Coordination and Motion Planning:

Numerical Methods for Simulating Hybrid Systems:


Publications with Undergradate Research Students at Regional Peer reviewed Conferences:

  • F.N. Bush and J.M. Esposito, “Vision-based  lane detection for an autonomous ground vehicle: a comparative field test,”  IEEE Southeastern Symposium on System Theory, p. 35-39, March  2010

  • D. Ferris and J.M. Esposito, “Three Dimensional Environment Modeling through Simultaneous Localization and Mapping Techniques”, IEEE Southeastern Symposium on System Theory, p. 257 – 262, March 2008

  • S.B. Winder and J.M. Esposito, “Modeling and Control of an Upper-Body Exoskeleton”, IEEE Southeastern Symposium on Systems Theory, p. 263 – 268, March 2008 

  • C. McCook, J.M. Esposito,  “Flocking for Heterogeneous Robot Swarms:  A Military Convoy Scenario”, IEEE Southeastern Symposium on Systems Theory, p. 26-31, March 2007

  • E.T. Smith,   M.G. Feemster, and J.M. Esposito, “Swarm Manipulation of an Unactuated Surface Vessel”,  IEEE Southeastern Symposium on Systems Theory, p. 16-20, March 2007

Courses Taught:

Pedagogical Articles:

Faculty Senate: I am currently the at-large senator for the Engineering Division. 

Assessment and Accreditation:   I have been trained as an ABET Program Evaluator, which qualifies me to vsiit other engineering schools seeking accreditation.   I also coordinate the assessment and accreditation efforts within my own department. 

Curriculum development:   I have a keen interest in curricular affairs.  For the last 5 years I have served on the Division of Engineering's curriculum committee which reviews proposed changes within the division's courses and degree programs.   From 2009-2012 I also served on the university wide curriculum committee.    In addition I chair a committee within my department which conducted a major review and revision of our own curriculum


MTIC2: I wrote the Matlab Toolbox for the iRobot Create 2 which allows you to control your Create 2 Robot from Matlab. 


MTIS: I wrote (with Carl Wick and Ken Knowles) the Matlab Toolbox for the IntelitekScorbot which allows you to control Intelitek's ER-4 Scorbot  from Matlab.   

Professional Societies: I am now involved with ABET.   Prior to that, I was the editor in chief of ASEE's Computers in Education Journal, journal from 2009-2012.   During that time I organized a special issue on robotics education.   I was a member of the steering committee for NASA's Sample Return Centennial Challenge which was hosted at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I organized an invited session at ICRA 2008 on cooperative manipulation and was an Associate Editor for IROS 2008. 

Unmanned Ground Vehicle Competition: I am the faculty adviser for Robo-Goat:  the Naval Academy's entry into the AUVSI's Intelligent Unmanned Ground Vehicle Student Competition.   Our First year at the competition (2009) we won the Rookie of The Year Award.  In 2012 and 2013 we placed second in the autonomous navigation challenge out of 50 entries.   See our vehicle in action here.


Past Service: At one time I also served on the Faculty Teaching and Service Award Committees, and was our departmental coordinator for Undergraduate Research.  For years I coordinated our efforts to recruit Systems Engineering majors and boost engineering enrollment and still maintain this facebook site.   I also run our annual "battle bots" style tournament called "Systems Ball".


Feel free to contact me with consulting, advisory, or speaking opportunities.

United States Naval Academy
105 Maryland Ave.
Annapolis, MD 21402
esposito at usna edu
410 293 6135 (office)

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