A professor of mechanical engineering, Louis Whitcomb is renowned for innovative robotics research and development for space, underwater, and other extreme environments, as well as novel systems for medicine and industry. He holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Computer Science.
He founded and directs the Johns Hopkins Dynamical Systems and Control Laboratory (DSCL), leading student researchers in nonlinear and adaptive control of robot systems; robot actuators and sensors; mechanical design; and control systems design for high-performance robot control. Whitcomb’s lab has participated in the development of underwater vehicles for oceanographic science missions, including the Nereus hybrid underwater vehicle that dove to the bottom of the Mariana Trench and Nereid Under-Ice (NUI) hybrid underwater vehicle deployed under Arctic sea ice in 1014, 2016, and 2019. Whitcomb was co-PI on these vehicle development projects with his collaborators at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Whitcomb, a veteran of more than 25 oceanographic expeditions and sea-trials, also develops manipulators for medical robotic arms to correct control algorithms, enable dexterous surgical tasks, and improve upper-limb prosthesis.
From 2013 to 2017, Whitcomb served as chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He was the founding director (2007-2013) of the JHU Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics (LCSR), and presently serves as LCSR deputy director and is the director of the Master of Science in Engineering in Robotics program. An adjunct scientist with WHOI’s Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering since 1995, Whitcomb previously served as a research and development engineer with the GMFanuc Robotics Corporation and completed post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Tokyo and WHOI prior to joining the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1995.
Whitcomb, who holds 15 patents, is a sought-after consultant in robotics, dynamics, navigation, control, and real-time control systems. He routinely provides technical reviews for the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and numerous professional journals, for which he also served as associate editor.
Whitcomb has received numerous best-paper awards for his robotics research and for his teaching. Early in his career, he was recognized with an NSF CAREER Award and Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, and in 2011, was named a Fellow with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for his contributions to the field. Selected in 2009 as Johns Hopkins’ inaugural Louis M. Sardella Faculty Scholar (2009-2011), Whitcomb has been honored with four teaching awards: The Whiting School of Engineering’s William H. Huggins Excellence in Teaching Award; the Alumni Excellence in Teaching Award; the George E. Owen Teaching Award; and the Student Council Award for Excellence in Teaching.
A member of IEEE, the Marine Technology Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Geophysical Union, and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, among others, Whitcomb presents frequently at robotics conferences worldwide. His 2018 keynote speaker invitations included the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Australia, the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society’s flagship conference and premier international forum for robotics researchers. Whitcomb has served on numerous conference and editorial committees, including ICRA, the Robotics: Science and Systems Conference, IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, and the International Conference on Medical Image Computing and Computer-Assisted Intervention.
He holds a B. in Mechanical Engineering (1984), an MS. in Electrical Engineering (1988), an M.Phil. (1990) in Electrical Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering (1992), all from Yale University.