PhD Candidate Wins Outstanding Student Paper Award at IEEE CDC

Joseph Breeden celebrated for his research on “Predictive Control Barrier Functions” for controlling systems subject to stringent safety requirements.

University of Michigan Aerospace Engineering PhD Candidate Joseph Breeden was awarded an Outstanding Student Paper Award at the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control for his paper titled “Predictive Control Barrier Functions for Online Safety Critical


Co-authored with faculty advisor Dimitra Panagou, this paper presents a systematic approach for anticipating when a system will exceed its safe operating range, and applying corrective control to prevent safety violations. The approach encodes the future safety of the system on a receding horizon into a new variant of Control Barrier Function (CBF), which Breeden calls a “Predictive CBF”, and uses the method of CBFs to keep the system within its intended operating range. Compared to existing CBF techniques, this strategy results in smaller modifications to the system’s nominal operation, and can be computed with fewer computational resources than other predictive control laws. The paper was one of the four finalists for the Best Student Paper Award.

“After working on this problem for satellite applications for over a year and a half, it feels great not only to have found a solution, but for this solution to be general enough to be recognized by the IEEE CSS as promising for a wide variety of systems”, says Breeden.

“I am excited about Joseph’s recent accomplishment, which is a recognition not only of his talented and creative work on challenging control-theoretic problems, but also of his passion for aerospace systems and control. It was really inspiring to see how a specific control problem for satellites motivated and led to the formulation of a novel control technique that can be used for a wide range of systems and applications”, says Panagou.

Breeden focuses his research on safety-critical control theory, with an emphasis on spacecraft applications and multi-agent systems. He aims to make space systems more reliable, autonomous, and scalable. Panagou’s areas of interest also include safe and resilient multi-agent systems with applications in Unmanned Aerial Systems, autonomous multi-vehicle systems (ground, marine, aerial, space), as well as robotic networks. Breeden and Panagou are actively studying the application of Predictive CBFs to large-scale distributed systems, including satellites, drones, and autonomous vehicles.

This is the second time IEEE presents Breeden and Panagou with an Outstanding Student Paper award.