Pushkin Kachroo believes that engineering research should focus on problems with practical applications. "They are actually the most complicated," he said. "You can't assume them away."
In the academic world, researchers tend to make assumptions and focus on ideal systems in order to develop the theoretical underpinnings, he explained. "However, very often, when the theory is applied to the real world, it is not even close," he said.
"On the other hand, in the industrial world there are so many rules of thumb; they are not using the many really good tools that are developed through academic research. They are dealing with time and resource constraints and it takes too long to learn the tools. They do not have the time to deal with it - so they take shortcuts," he continued.
"We need to bring both poles together to learn from each other," he said. "Particularly when teaching students, we need to keep this dichotomy in mind. Otherwise students are not mentally prepared for real-world engineering."
A specialist in controls, artificial intelligence, and robotics, Kachroo has had many opportunities to work on practical applications. He has been involved in projects as diverse as ultrasonic sensing of skin tissue, sensor fusion for GPS navigation, and mechatronics.
He joined the faculty in 1997 as an assistant professor after serving for three years as a research scientist in Virginia Tech's Center for Transportation Research. He has a B.S. in civil engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, and an M.S. in mechanical engineering from Rice University. While studying at Rice, he worked on a project with the Baylor College of Medicine to develop an ultrasonic device that would detect developing bedsores so that they could be prevented.
Kachroo earned his Ph.D. in 1993 in controls from the University of California at Berkeley. His dissertation focused on nonlinear feedback control design for a traction control system for automated driving of vehicles. After earning his Ph.D., he worked for Lincoln Electric Company in Cleveland, Ohio, developing the first automated welding robot. It was in Ohio that he earned his P.E. certification in electrical engineering.
"It was my first job after my Ph.D. that changed my view of engineering," he said. "Once I realized how industry operates under so many constraints, I decided that engineering research should focus on practical issues that have broad implications," he said.
His current research efforts include feedback control for congestion management in communication networks, GPS navigation using Kalman filtering and fuzzy sensor fusion, power control for peer-to-peer CDMA wireless communications, and hybrid system control.
He is also active in transportation research, including traffic control, electromagnetic braking, and active and passive collision avoidance. Through his transportation research, he has two books being published with Kaan Ozbay: Feedback Control Theory for Dynamic Traffic Assignment (Springer Verlag) and Incident Management (Artech House).
"Being a controls engineer, my background is varied. It's exciting to be able to get involved in so many different applications," he said.
"However, regardless of the application, if we go into a problem knowing the constraints, our model is closer to what could be used by a practitioner in the field. We would be able to give them a hands-on answer, not something we derived that cannot be implemented.
"Now, however, we are talking about very difficult models. That means we need more sophisticated mathematics. As engineers, we are not accustomed to using the complete power that mathematics offers. We need to rethink our approach to mathematics, because we can't get away from math if we are to solve engineering problems."
Kachroo is interested in strengthening the mathematics foundation of engineering students. "I actually believe every engineering student should take mathematical analysis courses. They're very abstract, but it would help our students to develop the perspective and tools they need to solve practical, applied problems."