UCSC’s Ricardo Sanfelice appointed inaugural director of CITRIS Aviation

Portrait of Ricardo Sanfelice
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Ricardo Sanfelice was appointed the as the inaugural director of the CITRIS Aviation initiative (photo by Carolyn Lagattuta).

CITRIS and the Banatao Institute have named Ricardo Sanfelice, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Santa Cruz’s Baskin School of Engineering, as the inaugural director of the CITRIS Aviation initiative. 

Launched in 2021, CITRIS Aviation was created to support interdisciplinary development of cutting-edge technologies and applications to help improve environmental monitoring, urban air mobility, wildfire response, security policy, and more. The initiative integrates faculty and staff expertise, research efforts, and educational programs and leverages aviation assets across the four CITRIS campuses at Berkeley, Davis, Merced and Santa Cruz. 

“Aviation activities are rapidly growing within the Santa Cruz region, with several large projects and centers emerging in recent years,” Sanfelice said. “Local industry is not only developing, but also requiring, new technology ranging from farming to aerial transportation solutions. UC Santa Cruz is a strategically located hub to host the CITRIS Aviation initiative. 

“The future of aviation is at an inflection point,” Sanfelice continued. “Without CITRIS’s interdisciplinarity, it would be impossible to solve many of the problems that aviation currently faces.” 

Within the broader area of control and systems theory, Sanfelice investigates hybrid dynamical systems, or highly complex systems that experience both continuous and instantaneous changes. While much of the work is theoretical, he grounds his findings in real-world usage — particularly in autonomous aerial vehicles and other intelligent transportation technologies. He also directs the Cyber-Physical Systems Research Center (CPSRC) at UC Santa Cruz, which supports research related to power grids, agriculture, manufacturing, and connected health. 

Sanfelice’s relationship with CITRIS began with a 2016 Seed Award to support early-stage work on secure algorithms for cloud robotics. His connection has strengthened with seed funding in 2017 for a California-Mexico partnership to explore autonomous robotic grasping, in 2018 for a cross-campus collaboration with UC Berkeley on safe planning and control for aerial vehicles, and in 2021 for drone-assisted wildfire risk assessment in a project called EUREKA, led by fellow UC Santa Cruz professor Katia Obraczka.

“I am thrilled that CITRIS has tapped Sanfelice to lead student and faculty researchers at a time of enormous creativity and innovation within the aviation industry,” said Alexander Wolf, dean of the Baskin School of Engineering. “His experience in developing leading-edge technology and bridging academia and industry will allow him to provide clear vision and leadership for this important new initiative."

For the past six years, Sanfelice has also served on the CITRIS People and Robots executive committee, which convenes faculty from all four campuses to identify challenges and research opportunities for the initiative to address. He plans to form a similar multicampus steering committee for CITRIS Aviation to bring together partners and contributors with related interests. 

“We’re delighted to welcome professor Sanfelice to the CITRIS leadership team and look forward to building a robust framework for innovation in aviation technology across the four campuses and beyond,” said Costas Spanos, director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute.

Sanfelice’s appointment is effective July 1.