Control engineering

Encompasses theories, methodologies and tools for modelling, analysis, design and optimisation of self-regulating systems, with an emphasis on uncertainty and robustness of feedback systems. A control system uses sensor measurements to monitor a system’s behaviour and generate/apply feedback to the system-appropriate control actions, to achieve the desired performance. Such systems are ubiquitous in natural and engineered systems, e.g. in aerospace, automotive, energy, manufacturing, robotics, intelligent mobility and transportation, communications, biology, biotechnology and healthcare, power electronics, smart grids, wind turbines and chemical processing.

New research challenges include analysis and design of large-scale, complex, heterogeneous and distributed systems, including those with humans-in-the-loop. This research area underpins a number of others across the engineering and physical sciences research base.

Although Control Engineering underpins a number of research areas, to date there has been no overarching community-driven research strategy. Over the Delivery Plan period, we will work proactively with the community to deliver a community-owned research strategy which seeks to elevate its presence in the wider engineering and physical sciences (EPS) community.

We will work with the community to understand and address, where possible, any leadership or related skills challenges, particularly in relation to early-career researchers, to support the future sustainability of control engineering within the UK.

Specifically, by the end of the Delivery Plan period, we aim to have:

  • A community that seeks to establish greater communication at a strategic level in order to foster collaboration on fundamental and applied research challenges. This will enable a greater focus on the balance between developing new fundamental control theory and the use of existing control theories in new application areas
  • Investigated how control engineers can increase awareness of the research area amongst the wider EPS community and industry, to enable better engagement of underpinning control expertise at the outset. In this way, we can maximise the potential impact from other research areas through informed design at an early stage, similar to how medical engineers engage with clinicians at a project’s outset to ensure results’ relevance to end-users. In conjunction with a focus on major research challenges (e.g. in aerospace, automotive and energy), this will maximise the resulting impact.

Control engineering is critical to the success of numerous engineering applications and underpins areas including power electronics, smart grids, wind turbines, aerospace, automotive, chemical processing, robotics, and manufacturing (Evidence source 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8).

Over the last Delivery Plan period, research in this area declined relative to the overall EPSRC portfolio, contradictory to the planned trajectory. Direct action and community ownership are needed to ensure no further decline.

Training is supported through associated Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), although none are specific to Control Engineering, and allocations through the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). While the community does not use centralised facilities, as capital requirements vary based on research needs, each research group has access to (often unique) facilities within their department to meet their requirements.

Overall, Control Engineering supports developments in multiple disciplines within EPSRC's remit (with strong links to Sensors and Instrumentation, Electrical Motors and Drives/Electromagnetics, Robotics and Quantum Technologies) and plays an implicit role across the whole EPSRC portfolio. There is a need to ensure that novel control engineering is embedded accordingly into core application areas. Greater co-ordination and capability within the academic community will be required to realise these and other opportunities (e.g. those across priority research areas such as Robotics and Quantum Technologies). 

By focusing activities on key application areas, and connecting theories with applications, research in Control Engineering will contribute to a step change in delivering the Ambitions outlined in the Delivery Plan, and particularly:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

Control Engineering is particularly critical to developing such technologies across a range of application areas.                

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

This research area will contribute through successful implementation of the smart grid.

C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the Internet of Things

This research area will contribute through development of novel control theories and applications.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Control engineering (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Engineering Team
Department: Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC