MacArthur Fellows Program

Naomi Leonard

Engineer | Class of 2004

Building multiple, miniature, autonomous underwater vehicles that mimic the behavior of schooling fish.

Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
40 at time of award

Naomi Leonard is an engineer who develops autonomous underwater vehicles. This work synthesizes elements as diverse as fluid mechanics, robotics, computer science, oceanography, and biology. Leonard's initial efforts focused on single vehicles that have the means to control motion directly in some, but not all, dimensions. She showed how "energy-shaping" methods could be used to generate stable feedback control; these results have found application beyond robotics, extending control theory for mechanical systems in general. With this theoretical foundation, Leonard moved to the design of coordinated control of arrays of multiple mobile agents. In collaboration with the mathematicians, oceanographers, and biologists of the Adaptive Ocean Sampling Network (AOSN) project, she has investigated how biological groups (such as flocking birds and schooling fish) coordinate their motion and how to get man-made mobile autonomous agents to mimic that behavior. Beyond its contributions to engineering and behavioral science, autonomous underwater technology allows oceanographers to place measuring instruments in the right place at the right time to collect data essential for understanding the physical forces controlling ocean dynamics. The technology also holds significant promise for a variety of military defense applications.

Naomi Leonard received a B.S.E. (1985) from Princeton University and an M.S. (1991) and a Ph.D. (1994) from the University of Maryland, College Park. Before beginning her Ph.D. studies, Leonard worked as an engineer in the electric power industry. In 1994, she became an assistant professor at Princeton University in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and was promoted to associate professor and full professor in 1999 and 2003, respectively. Since 1998, she has also been associated with Princeton’s Program of Applied and Computational Mathematics. Leonard’s work has been published in numerous scientific journals, including the Journal of Dynamical Control Systems, Physica D, and Automatica.

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Please credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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