Santa Clara University

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Chris Kitts


Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering 
Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development, School of Engineering
Joint Appointments, Electrical Engineering (Courtesy) and Bio-Engineering (Affiliate)
KEEN Fellow
Office: EC 323D
Phone: 408-554-4382
Fax: 408-554-5474

Ph.D., Stanford University, Mechanical Engineering, 2006
M.P.A., University of Colorado, International & Defense Policy, 1996
M.S., Stanford University, Aerospace Engineering, 1992
B.S.E, Princeton University, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, 1987 
Interests: Control Systems, Autonomous Reasoning, Teleoperation Robotics, Mechatronics, Space Systems, Marine Systems 


Dr. Christopher Kitts is an Associate Professor at Santa Clara University where he serves as the Director of the Robotic Systems Laboratory. He is also the Director of the Center for Robotic Exploration and Space Technologies, a multi-institution consortium or academic institutions focusing on aerospace research and education and which is located at the NASA Ames Research Park. In addition, he holds an Associate Researcher appointment at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, in conjunction with whom he and his students develop several advanced marine robotic systems. Dr. Kitts is also the Mission Operations Director for a series of NASA small spacecraft, which are controlled on-orbit by students in the Robotic Systems Laboratory.

At Santa Clara, Prof. Kitts runs an aggressive field robotics program specializing in the design, control and teleoperation of highly capable robotic system for scientific discovery, technology validation, and engineering education. These systems include underwater vehicles, clusters of land rovers, autonomous aircraft, and microspacecraft. These systems provide unique experimental opportunities for demonstrating research innovations in multi-robot systems, model-based anomaly management, and other research topics within the Lab.  This program has been funded at a level of millions of dollars over the past five years and includes collaborators and sponsors such as NSF, NASA, NOAA. the US Air Force, the US Navy, BMW, Lockheed-Martin, Nike, and Intel.  Highlights of the program include robotic-based scientific discoveries, such as evidence of tsunami waves in Lake Tahoe, and unique engineering accomplishments, such as controlling a series of NASA spacecraft for advanced space biological research. Students are also using the Lab's robots to learn how to provide cost-effective engineering services, such as monitoring the health of local wineries, inspecting solar panel installations, and performing environmental surveys. 

Prof. Kitts’ professional experience includes work ranging from a research engineer to an operational satellite constellation mission controller, and he has held appointments as an officer in the U.S. Air Force Space Command, as a NASA contractor with Caelum Research Corporation, as a DoD Research Fellow at the U.S. Phillips Laboratory, as a founder and the Graduate Student Director of Stanford University’s Space Systems Development Laboratory, and as a technical consultant. He holds degrees from Princeton University, the University of Colorado, and Stanford University.

Current Research Interests

Cluster Space Control of Multiple Mobile Robots: Using the cluster space state representation to naturally specify and control the motion of multiple mobile robots in an autonomous or single-pilot system. Experimental applications include multi-rover testbeds for object manipulation/transport as well as for prototyping coordinated navigation of UAVs/ASVs for remote sensing and in situ monitoring applications. Dr. Kitts has held several NSF grants in this area and has served as the Special Issue Guest Editor on this topic for several journals.

Model-Based Anomaly Management: Using fundamental system descriptions in order to systematically compute conjectures regarding the detection of anomaly detection, the identification of possible anomaly diagnoses, and the generation of applicable anomaly resolutions. Experimental applications range from the health management of orbiting spacecraft to automobile diagnostics to the dynamic control of underwater propulsion systems. Sponsored projects relating to this work include the model-based operation of spacecraft for NASA and the Air Force.

Dr. Kitts is currently an Associate Editor of the journal IEEE Access, and he serves on the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems. He is a past Technical Editor for the ASME/IEEE Transactions on Mechatronics. He has also served as a Guest Editor for several special topics issues of IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine and the ASME/IEEE Transactions on Mechatronics.

Recent Book Chapters and Journal Publications

Prof. Kitts has (co)authored more than 150 publications relating to his research, education and programmatic activities. Recent peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters include:

Book Chapters

  • I. Mas, and C. Kitts, “Cooperative Tasks Using Teams of Mobile Robotis,” IAENG Transactions on Engineering Technologies, H.K. Kim, S. I. Ao, M. A. Amouzegar and B. B. Rieger (Eds.), Springer 2014, pp. 83-99.
  • C. Kitts. "A Field Robotics Program For Real World Undergraduate Education," Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. The National Academies Press, Dec 2012, p. 21.
  • Mobile Robot Systems, Trends and Development, T. Yasuda (Ed.), INTECH, Chp 4.
  • C. Kitts. “Robotics.” The Handbook of Technology Management, Volume 3. H. Bidgoli, ed. New York: Wiley, 2010, pp. 306-319.

Recent Journal Articles

  • T. Adamek, C. Kitts, and I. Mas, "Gradient-Based Cluster Space Navigation for Autonomous Surface Vessels," IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics, pp. 1-13, In Press.
  • T.J. Moore, R. Schweickert, and C. Kitts, "Tsunami-generated sediment wave channels at Lake Tahoe, California-Nevada, USA," v 10, n 4, August 2014, pp 757-768.
  • I. Mas and C. Kitts, "Dynamic Control of Mobile Multirobot Systems: The Cluster Space Formulation," IEEE ACCSS, April 2014, pp. 558-570.
  • P. Ehrenfreund, A. Ricco, D. Squires, C. Kitts, et al. "The O/OREOS mission-Astrobiology in low Earth orbit." Acta Astronautica, v 93, 2014, pp. 501-508.
  • C. Kitts, P. Mahacek, T. Adamek, K. Rasal, V. Howard, S. Li, A. Badoui, W. Kirkwood, G. Wheat, and S. Hulme. "Field Operation of a Robotic SWATH Boat for Shallow-Water Bathymetric Characterization." Journal of Field Robotics, v 29, no 6, Nov/Dec 2012, pp. 924-938.
  • I. Mas and C. Kitts. "Obstacle Avoidance Policies for Cluster Space Control of Non-Holonomic Multi-Robot Systems."IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics. v 17, n 6, Dec 2012, pp. 1068-1079.
  • A. Mattioda, et al., "The O/OREOS Mission: First Science Data from the Space Environment Viability of Organics (SEVO) Payload." Astrobiology, v 12, n 9, Sep 2012, pp. 841-853.
  • P. Mahacek, C. Kitts, and I. Mas. "Dynamic Guarding of Marine Assets through Cluster Control of Automated Surface Vessel Fleets." IEEE/ASME Transactions of Mechatronics, v 17, n 1, Feb 2012, pp. 65-75.
  • W. Nicholson, et al., "The O/OREOS Mission: First Science Data from the Space Environment Survivability of Living Organisms (SESLO) Payload." Astrobiology, v 11, n 10, 2011, pp. 951-958.


NASA Ames Research Center Honor Award, 2014; National Academy of Engineering Exemplar Real World Engineering Program, 2013; Outstanding Faculty Member, KEEN Program, 2012; Edison Innovation Award co-winner, 2012; NASA Ames Research Center Achievement Award, 2009; NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Achievement Award, 2009; SCU School of Engineering Excellence in Teaching Award, 2008; SCU School of Engineering Researcher of the Year Award, 2007; NASA Team Achievement Award, 2004; Japan-U.S. Science Technology and Space Applications Program Outstanding Team Award, 2003; Santa Clara University Outstanding Service Award, 2000; Stanford University Lyon’s Service Award, 1999; AIAA National Award for Graduate Research in Intelligent Systems, 1998; Outstanding Teaching Award, Stanford University Dept. of Aeronautics & Astronautics, 1995; Dike Research Award, Princeton University Dept. of Mechanical & Aerospace Eng., 1986; Marshall Research Award, Princeton University Dept. of Mechanical & Aerospace Eng., 1986.  Technical paper awards: AIAA Conf. on Small Satellites (1994, 1996, 1998) and ITC Telemetering Conf., 1995. SAE Doctoral Scholar, Dept. of Defense NDSEG Fellow, Stanford Future Professors Program Fellow.

Courses Taught


MECH 142 Dynamic Systems III - Control Systems
MECH 143 Mechatronics
MECH 144 Smart Product Design
MECH/ELEN/COEN/BIOE 194/195/196 Senior Design Project I, II, III
ENGR 180/181 Marine Operations/Advanced Marine Operations


MECH 207/208/209/310 Advanced Mechatronics I, II, III, IV
MECH/ELEN 337/338/339 Robotics I, II, III
MECH/ELEN 311 Modeling and Control of Telerobotic Systems
MECH 296 Topics in Dynamics and Controls - Ocean Engineering
MECH 296 Topics in Dynamics and Controls - Aerospace Design
MECH/EMGT 371/372 Space System Design and Engineering I & II
MECH 379 Satellite Operations Laboratory