David Copp

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

B.S. Degree: Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Arizona.

Degree sought from UCSB and Progress: MS/PhD in Mechanical Engineering

Awards and Honors: UCSB Grad Slam Finalist, CCDC Dean’s Quest Fellowship

Graduate Study Area: Dynamics, Robotics, and Control

Main Area of Research: Control Theory

Advisor and Lab: João Hespanha

Research Interests: Nonlinear optimal control and estimation for biomedical, aerospace, and other vehicular applications.

Professional Memberships: IEEE, ASME, SIAM

Hobbies: Playing basketball, ultimate Frisbee, hiking, and riding bicycles.

Tell us about your research.

Currently I am working with my advisor, Professor João Hespanha, on combining Moving Horizon Estimation with Model Predictive Control for nonlinear systems with output-feedback. We have come up with a method to solve both the estimation and control problems simultaneously as a single min-max optimization problem and have proven stability and state boundedness using this approach. Some applications that we have investigated in the context of this work include the coordination of unmanned aerial vehicles for target tracking, estimation and control of an artificial pancreas for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes, and, most recently, adaptive control of general nonlinear systems with model uncertainty.  

Describe how it felt making it to the final round of the Grad Slam

I chose to talk about our work with the artificial pancreas for the Grad Slam because I thought that there was a compelling story to tell about the severity, consequences, and daily hardship of Type 1 diabetes, how treatment has evolved, and the opportunity to apply my research to ground-breaking devices that can really improve the daily lives of people with Type 1 diabetes. I am indebted to Ravi Gondhalekar and Professor Frank Doyle for the opportunity to apply some of my research to the feedback control of an artificial pancreas - something they have been working on for a while and have made great progress in. 

I was first surprised and then very grateful when I was selected to compete in the final round of the Grad Slam. There is so much important and intriguing research being performed by graduate students here at UCSB that I did not expect to make it past the preliminary round. Condensing your work into a succinct and comprehensible three-minute talk is a challenge but also a great opportunity to take a step back from the details of your research, remember what got you excited about that research in the first place, and share that excitement with a general audience. I tried to make my talk relatable to everyone, and I am happy the judges selected me to compete in the final round. 

How and why did you get into your area of research?

After experiencing severe accidents between cars and bicyclists both as a bystander and personally during my studies as an undergraduate, I began thinking about better ways to control and route vehicles. That led me to begin undergraduate research with Professor Ricardo Sanfelice (who is an alumnus of the CCDC here at UCSB) in the Hybrid Dynamics and Control Laboratory at the University of Arizona. My undergraduate research experience was invaluable, and I am very grateful to have had that opportunity. Professor Sanfelice also encouraged me to apply to graduate school and, in particular, attend UCSB for my Master’s and PhD degrees.

Why did you select UCSB in regards to your research?

I heard about the Center for Control, Dynamical-Systems, and Computation here at UCSB from Professor Ricardo Sanfelice at the University of Arizona because he had received his PhD from here. When I looked into the wide variety of research that is being performed here, UCSB became one of my top choices for graduate school. Such a large group of faculty and students participating in the CCDC was a huge draw for me.

UCSB also happens to have a fantastic graduate program in physics, so my wife Stacy and I were both able to join excellent programs coming here to study.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

Something I find very rewarding about my research is not only being able to work on interesting and stimulating problems and come up with unique and groundbreaking methods of approaching them, but also having the opportunity to share my work with the community. It is also rewarding to realize the potential that my work has to improve the ever day lives of people – especially when thinking about the potential impact of feedback controllers for an artificial pancreas used to treat Type 1 diabetes.

What have been your favorite opportunities as a graduate student?

Being a graduate student at UCSB has provided me with many wonderful opportunities. Probably the most unique opportunity is being able to work closely with so many talented instructors and researchers locally, and also meeting other remarkable researchers at international conferences. 

I have also had the privilege of mentoring high school students in several summer robotics internships and as an instructor for the School of Scientific Thought. UCSB has given me the opportunity to expose younger students to control and robotics, and science and engineering in general. These programs give students one-of-a-kind opportunities to work with graduate students, gain hands-on experience learning what scientists and engineers do, and acquire interests that they can pursue in the future.

Where will your research take you next?

After completing my PhD, I will be applying for a postdoctoral or other research position where I hope to continue developing and applying advanced control methods to interesting applications.

Life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life?

Graduate school is a great time to explore and pursue various research interests. My advisor, João Hespanha, has been very supportive in allowing me to investigate different problems that interest me.

There are so many unique people in academia that you get to meet as a graduate student. I have learned so much from my colleagues and peers who are from all kinds of different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences.

I think a healthy work/life balance is necessary to be successful and happy. Fortunately, my wife Stacy is also a graduate student, so we both understand when the other needs to get work done and when we can take advantage of a beautiful day in Santa Barbara to go outside for a run, hike, or bike ride.

What is your social life like and where have you lived?

I enjoy being active, so most of my social life involves playing on an intramural basketball team, playing ultimate Frisbee, and training for the Santa Barbara Century bicycle race with some of my fellow graduate students.

I live in Family Student Housing with my wife, Stacy, who is a PhD student in Physics.