Santa Clara University

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Chris Kitts


Title: Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering (by Courtesy)
Robert W. Peters Professor, W. J. Nicholson Fellow, KEEN Fellow
Kitts, Chris
Office: EC 323D
Phone: 408-554-4382
Fax: 408-554-5474
Education: 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, and ACRi.  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.

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

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.

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. Sponsored projects relating to this work include a new NSF program in the development of a high performance, flexible multi-robot testbed. Dr. Kitts is currently serving as the Guest Editor for the IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine Special Issue on Multi-Robot Systems.

Recent Book Chapters and Journal Publications

Prof. Kitts has (co)authored more than 130 publications relating to his research, education and programmatic activities. Recent peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters include:

  • 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." Accepted for publication.
  • W. Nicholson, R. Mancinelli, O. Santos, A.J. Ricco, P. Ehrenfreund, D. Squires, C. Kitts, R. Rasay, A. Young and the O/OREOS-Sat Engineering Team at NASA Ames. "The O/OREOS Mission: First Science Data from the Space Environment Survivability of Living Organisms (SESLO) Payload." Astrobiology. Accepted for publication.
  • P. Ehrenfreund, A.J. Ricco, E. Agasid, R. Quinn, Bramall, K. Bryson, J. Chittenden, A. Cook, R. Mancinelli, A. Mattioda, G. Menelli, W. Nicholson, O. Santos, D. Squires, C. Kitts, R. Rasay, A. Young and the O/OREOS-Sat Engineering Team at NASA Ames. "The O/OREOS mission - Astrobiology in low earth orbit." Acta Astronautica. Accepted for publication.
  • I. Mas and C. Kitts. "Obstacle Avoidance Policies for Cluster Space Control of Non-Holonomic Multi-Robot Systems." IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics. Accepted, In Press.
  • I. Mas and C. Kitts. "Model-Based Nonlinear Cluster Space Control of Mobile Robot Formations." Book Chapter accepted for Mobile Robot Systems, Trends and Development, T. Yasuda (Ed.), INTECH, Chp 4.
  • C. Kitts, W. Kirkwood, and G. Wheat. "An Interdisciplinary, Marine Robotics Research and Education Program." Current: The Journal of Marine Education, v 26, n 3, Dec 2010, pp. 7-10.
  • C. Kitts. “A Stock Market Mechanism for Reinforcing Entrepreneurial Learning Objectives in Hands-on, Team-Based Projects.” Journal of Engineering Entrepreneurship, v1 n1, June 2010, pp. 35-41.
  • C. Kitts. “Robotics.” The Handbook of Technology Management, Volume 3. H. Bidgoli, ed. New York: Wiley, 2010, pp. 306-319.
  • C. Kitts and I. Mas. “Cluster Space Specification and Control of Mobile Multirobot Systems.” IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics, v 14, n 2, 2009, pp. 207-218.
  • M. Chow, S. Chiaverini, and C. Kitts. “Mechatronics in Multi-Robot Systems: Guest Editorial.” IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics, v 14, n 2, 2009, pp. 133-140.
  • P. Mahacek, I. Mas, O. Petrovic, J. Acain, and C. Kitts. "Cluster Space Control of Autonomous Surface Vessels." Marine Tech Soc Journal, v 43, n 1, pp. 13-20, 2009.
  • E. Beck, W. Kirkwood, D. Caress, T. Berk, P. Mahacek, K. Brashem, J. Acain, V. Reddy, C. Kitts, J. Skutnik and G. Wheat. "SeaWASP: A Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull Autonomous Platform for Shallow Water Mapping." Marine Tech Soc Journal, v 43, n 1, 2009, pp. 6-12.
  • C. Kitts and M. Egerstedt. “Design, Control and Applications of Real-World Multirobot Systems.” IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine, v 15, n 1, March, 2008, p. 8.
  • M. Swartwout, C. Kitts, R. Twiggs, T. Kenny, W. Smith, R. Lu, K. Stattenfield, F. Pranajaya. "Mission results for Sapphire, a student-built satellite.” Acta Astronautica, v 62, 2008, pp. 521-538.
  • C. Kitts. “Managing space system anomalies using first principles reasoning.” IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine, Special Issue on Automation Science, v 13 no 4, December 2006, pp. 39-50.
  • J.G. Moore, R.A. Schweickert, J.E. Robinson, M.M. Lahren, and C.A. Kitts. “Tsunami-generated boulder ridges in Lake Tahoe, California-Nevada.” Geology, v 34 no 11, November 2006, pp. 965-968.
  • M. Swartwout, C. Kitts, and J. Cutler. “Sapphire: A Case Study in University-Class Satellites.” AIAA Journal on Spacecraft and Rockets, vol. 43 no. 5, September-October 2006, pp. 1136-1139.
  • C. Kitts and N. Quinn, "An Interdisciplinary Field Robotics Program for Undergraduate Computer Science and Engineering Education." ACM Journal on Educational Resources in Computing, v 4, n 2, June 2005, pp. 1-22.
  • C. Kitts. "Surf, Turf, and Above the Earth: An Aggressive Robotics Development Program for Integrative Undergraduate Education." IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine, vol 10, no. 3, 2003, pp. 30-36.
  • C. Kitts and M. Swartwout. "Beacon Monitoring: Reducing the Cost of Nominal Spacecraft Operations." Journal of Reducing Space Mission Cost, vol 1, no. 4, 2002, pp. 305-338.


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
ENGR 20 Robotics Workshop


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