USNA Faculty Profiles


Joel M. Esposito
Associate Professor
Systems Engineering Department

105 Maryland Ave.
Annapolis, MD 21402
esposito at usna edu

  Degrees    |  Profile   |   Research   |   Courses |  Publications   |  


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


Joel Esposito:  is an Associate Professor  in the System Engineering Department at the United States Naval Academy.  He teaches courses in Robotics and Control Systems, and is the recipient of the 2009 USNA Rauoff Award for Excellence in Engineering Education.  Pedagogically, his current efforts are focused on teaching courses in robotics and a new course on autonomous vehicles.  His research focuses on the use of algorithmic and numerical tools for designing and analyzing mobile robot motion controllers. He is the author of over 45 peer reviewed publications.  Prior to joining the faculty in 2002, he spent several years as a graduate research assistant at the University of Pennsylvania working with Vijay Kumar at the GRASP Laboratory.  During those years he worked on a variety of DARPA projects, participated in the development of a programming language, CHARON, and held visiting appointments at Lockheed Martin, Sandia National Laboratories and Boston University

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

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 faculty has maintained a 50-50 civilian-officer ratio.   Students receive tuition waivers in exchange to commit to serve as an officer in the Navy or Marine Corps for at least 5 years.  The ABET Accredited Systems Engineering Major is the among the most popular majors at the Academy.  It is actually an applied control systems department.  At its core is a 5 course sequence in feedback control.  Upper level electives include embedded computing, modern control, communication systems and four courses in robotics. 

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

Research Projects
Forthcoming Publications

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.


Cooperative Manipulation:  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.   I work with Matthew Feemster  at USNA.
This project is funded by ONR.



Mobile Wireless Networks:  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. VIDEO1, VIDEO2,  


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. 


Other Activities
Research Projects

Boosting Engineering Enrollment:  I serve on two committees whose objective is to boost enrollment in technical majors at the Naval Academy.   In an effort to inform potential students about what Systems Engineers do, I maintain this blog and facebook site  


MTIC:    I wrote (with Owen Barton and Josh Koehler) the Matlab Toolbox for the iRobot Create which allows you to control your Roomba or Create Robot from Matlab.   We are now releasing Version 2.0 which has some bug fixes and adds the ability to drive the Create using a keyboard or GUI.  The page also has some links to other useful Matlab code I have written.


ScorbotMTIS:    I wrote (with Carl Wick and Ken Knowles) the Matlab Toolbox for the Intelitek Scorbot which allows you to control Intelitek's ER-4 Scorbot  from Matlab.   We are now releasing the Beta version. 


 ASEE's Computers in Education Journal:    I recently organized a Special Issue on Novel Approaches to Robotics Education.  For the past 3 years I have served as the editor-in-chief of the Computers in Education Journal, a publication of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE).  The purpose of the journal is to provide a forum to share new pedagogical approaches to using all facets of computing (programming, software, hardware, embedded, etc.) in engineering education.  Please direct all submissions to ed-pub (at) crosslink (dot) net . 


Professional Societies:  I am part of the Secretary of Defense's working group on Unmanned Systems Education at the Service Academies.  I am a member of the steering committee for NASA's Sample Return Centennial Challenge which will be hosted at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  In the past I have also organized an invited session at ICRA 2008 on cooperative manipulation.  I 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 2010 an 2011 we placed 10th out of 50 teams.



University Service:  .   I am currently the Chair of the Division of Engineering's curriculum committee and leading an effort to revamp the Systems Engineering curriculum.  I have also served on the Faculty Teaching and Service Award Committees, our departmental coordinator for Undergraduate Research.

Current Courses
Research Projects

Courses Taught:

  • ES486A:  Autonomous Vehicles (SyllabusDescription, Labs, equipment)
  • ES450:  Robotics, ES452 Advanced Topics in Robotics
  • ES451:  Mobile Robot Design
  • ES308:  Control Systems Laboratory

Pedagogical Articles:

Publications updated spring 2009
Conferernce Presentations

Swarm Manipulation:

Multi-Robot (Swarm) Motion Planning and Control:

Enhancements to Rapidly Exploring Random Trees with applications to verification:

Numerical Methods for Simulating Hybrid Systems:

For a complete list see CV.

<updated 8/22/2011, but did not update publications and CV>