J. Karl Hedrick, professor, nonlinear control expert, 1944-2017


J. Karl Hedrick, James Marshall Wells Academic Chair and Professor of Mechanical Engineering, passed away on February 22 after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 72 years old.


Hedrick was best known for the development of nonlinear control theory and its applications to transportation, including automated highway systems, power train controls, embedded software design, formation flight of autonomous vehicles, and active suspension systems. Hedrick also made important contributions to nonlinear estimation and control.


Hedrick received his bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics at the University of Michigan in 1966. He earned his master’s and his doctoral degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering at Stanford University in 1970 and 1971, respectively.


From 1974 to 1988, Hedrick was a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directed the Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory. He then joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Univeristy of California, Berkeley in 1988, where he taught graduate and undergraduate courses in automatic control theory.


While at Berkeley, Hedrick served as the chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering (1999–2004), the James Marshall Wells Academic Chair (since 1997), and as director of the university’s Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways Research Center (1997–2003), which conducts research in advanced vehicle control systems, advanced traffic management and information systems, and technology leading to an automated highway system. He was also the director of Berkeley’s Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, as well as a co-director of the Hyundai Center of Excellence in Active Safety and Autonomous Systems.


Hedrick was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was also a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and past chair of the Dynamic Systems and Control Division and its Honors Committee.


Other honors include the Outstanding Paper Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 1998; the American Automatic Control Council’s O. Hugo Schuck Best Paper Award, 2003; the ASME Division of Dynamic Systems, Measurement, and Control’s Outstanding Investigator Award, 2002; and the ASME Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement, and Control Best Paper award in 1983 and 2001. Hedrick received ASME’s 2006 Rufus Oldenburger Medal, which recognizes significant contributions and outstanding achievements in the field of automatic control. He delivered the ASME Nyquist Lecture in 2009.


He has written two books and published more than 140 peer-reviewed archival publications. Spanning his career at Arizona State, MIT and Berkeley, Hedrick has graduated over 70 Ph.D. students.