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Joel M. Esposito, Ph.D.

Robotics and Control Engineering Department


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 Robotics and Control Engineering Department at the United States Naval Academy.  He teaches courses in Robotics, Unmanned Vehicles, Computer Vision, Mechatronics, Feedback Control Systems and most recently undergraduate research methods.  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 a trained 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 $1.3 million in external funding.  He is the author of over 75 peer reviewed articles, has appeared as a guest on NPR, and served on advisory panels for NSF, ONR, DoT, NASA, Office of the Secretary 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.   Google Scholar Profile.

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

About USNA: The Naval Academy is a STEM oriented 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 Robotics and Control 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. 

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.  

Convolutional Neural Networks for Laser Beams with Oribital Angular Momentum:  High speed, secure underwater communication is an important yet challenging capability.   Recently it was shown that laser beams carrying oribital angular momentum can be used to encode and transmit information in the underwater envrionment.   At the receiving-end the beam patterns have to be classified to decode the message.  However optical turbulence, scattering and attenuation distort the received images.  We have applied CNNs to this problem with great success -- decoding the largest alphabets reported in the literature to date with high accuracy and speed.   

Sample Based Motion Planning:   My work explores some challenges at the foundation of sample-based robot motion planning, including issues of dimensionality and scaling, We are applying 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. 

High Speed Collision Avoidance for Unmanned Surface Vessels (OLD): 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 (OLD): 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:

Photo of small robots on the floor

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 environment.  Sample publication:

Classifying Laser Beams carying OAM via Convolutional Neural Networks:


Sampling Based Motion Planning:

Swarm Cooperative Manipulation:

Multi-Robot (Swarm) Coordination and Motion Planning:

Numerical Methods for Simulating Hybrid Systems:


Publications with Undergraduate 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:

Data Science and AI, Intro to Robotics, Feedback control systems, Simulation and modeling, Computer Vision, Engineering Design

Pedagogical Articles:

Current Roles:

  • Tenure and Promotion Committee
  • Robotics and Contgrol Engineering Honors Program Director
  • Robotics and Control Engineering Capstone Project Coordinator
  • Research Award Comittee
  • Trident Scholar Comittee
  • ABET Program Evaluator

An Incomplete List of Previous Roles

  • Data Science Major Working Group
  • Co-Chair Departmental Mentoring Program: I run a mentoring program for junior faculty at my institution which includes on-on-one consultation, organizing discussion groups and speaking at workshops. 
  • Admission Board: I am one small cog in the admissions process at USNA
  • 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 in Robotics and Control Engineering, renaming the major, changing the elective and capstone format 
  • At various times I have run our department's hiring committee,
  • served as the liaison for undergraduate research,
  • coordinated our accreditation efforts,
  • served on the executive board of the faculty senate and as the at-large senator from the engineering division.  
  • At one time I also served on the Faculty Teaching and Service Award Committees,
  • For years, I coordinated our efforts to recruit Systems Engineering majors and boost engineering enrollment and still maintain this  Facebook site.  
  • I used to run our annual "battle bots" style tournament called "Systems Ball".

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.



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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