Cowan, Noah J.

Associate Professor
Department Of Mechanical Engineering

Hackerman Hall 121
3400 N Charles St
(410) 516-5301

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Johns Hopkins scholars, leaders celebrate faculty research awards

September 4, 2015

Scholars from across Johns Hopkins University’s 10 divisions gathered last night at the George Peabody Library to celebrate 60 innovative research projects that are being supported by the inaugural Catalyst and Discovery awards. Thirty-seven early career scholars (five of them from WSE) received Catalyst Awards and 23 cross-divisional faculty teams, which included 14 WSE faculty […]

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No Clowning Around: Juggling Study Sheds Light on Locomotion

February 11, 2014

Juggling may sound like mere entertainment, but a study led by Johns Hopkins engineers has used this circus skill to gather critical clues about how vision and the sense of touch help control the way humans and animals move their limbs in a repetitive way, such as in running. The findings eventually may aid in […]

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  • Ph.D. 1997, University of Michigan
  • M.S. 1995, University of Michigan
  • B.S. 1990, Ohio State University
  • 2001 - 2003:  Postdoctoral Scholar, University of California, Berkeley
Research Areas
  • Robotics
  • Neuroscience
  • Biomechanics
  • Locomotion
  • Control systems
  • 2014:  The Dunn Family Award
  • 2012:  Finalist - Best Paper in 2012 in Journal of Experimental Biology
  • 2012:  James S. McDonnell Complex Systems Scholar Award
  • 2011:  PECASE
  • 2009:  National Science Foundation CAREER Award
  • 2006:  Finalist - Best Paper - 2006 Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) Conference - awarded at the 2007 IROS Conference. Joint with Robert J. Webster - III - and Allison M. Okamura.
  • 2005:  William H. Huggins Excellence in Teaching Award:This award is given in recognition of outstanding teaching in the Whiting School of Engineering at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and a demonstrated dedication to students.
  • 2000:  Finalist - Best Student Paper - Conference on Decisions and Controls - Sydney - Australia.
  • 2000:  Rackham Graduate Fellow - University of Michigan.
  • 1995:  I.E.C. Everitt Award
  • 1995:  Summa Cum Laude - Ohio State University
  • 1994:  Golden Key
  • 1994:  Undergraduate Research Scholar - Ohio State University.
  • 1993:  Eta Kappa Nu
  • 1993:  Tau Beta Pi
  • Janelia Research Campus Seminar.  2017
  • Robotics Institute Seminar, Carnegie Mellon University.  2017
  • "Stabilizing the Unstable Brain", Winter Workshop on Locomotion.  2017
  • "Stabilizing the Unstable Brain", Applied Math Seminar, University of Waterloo.  2016
  • "Active Sensing via Rhythmic Movement Shapes Sensory Feedback for Control", Dynamic Walking.  Ann Arbor, MI.  2016
  • Biology Colloquium, Muhlenberg College.  2015
  • Biophysics Colloquium, Georgia Institute of Technology.  2015
  • Biotechnology Seminar Series, University of Nebraska.  2015
  • "Identifying Stability Properties of a Hybrid Spring-Mass-Damper via Piecewise LTI Approximation and Harmonic Transfer Functions", Dynamic Walking.  2015
  • "Sensory Weighting in a Rhythmic Ball Bouncing Task", Dynamic Walking.  2015
  • GRASP Laboratory Seminar Series, University of Pennsylvania.  2015
  • Invited Speaker, Dynamic Walking Conference.  2015
  • Invited Speaker, Robotics-Inspired Biology Workshop, International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA).  2015
  • ""Time" as a sensorimotor control problem: performance limits of human auditory -- motor entrainment", Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting.  Portland, OR.  2015
  • "Closing the Loop Around Free Behavior During Active Sensing", Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting.  West Palm Beach, FL.  2015
  • "Fitting low-order transfer function models to messy biological data", AMS Spring Eastern Sectional Meeting.  2014
  • Applied Dynamics Seminar Series, University of Maryland.  2014
  • Joint seminar for CiBER-IGERT and the Control Theory Seminar Series, University of California, Berkeley.  2014
  • Neuroscience Retreat, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.  2014
  • Rehabilitation Science Research Seminar, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore.  2014


Journal Articles
  • Uyanik, I., Ankarali, M. M., Cowan, N., Saranli, U., Morgul, O. (2016).  Identification of a Vertical Hopping Robot Model via Harmonic Transfer Functions.  Trans Inst Measurement Control.
  • Sutton, E. E., Demir, A., Stamper, S. A., Fortune, E. S., Cowan, N. (2016).  Dynamic modulation of visual and electrosensory gains for locomotor control.  J R Soc Interface.  13(118).  20160057.
  • Lamperski, A., Cowan, N. (2016).  Optimal control with noisy time.  IEEE Trans Autom Control.  61(2).  319–333.
  • Ankarali, M. M., Sefati, S., Madhav, M. S., Long, A., Bastian, A., Cowan, N. (2015).  Walking dynamics are symmetric (enough).  J R Soc Interface.  12(108).
  • Ankarali, M. M., Sen, H. T., De, A., Okamura, A. M., Cowan, N. (2014).  Haptic feedback enhances rhythmic motor control by reducing variability, not improving convergence rate.  J Neurophysiol.  111(6).  1286–1299.
  • Mongeau, J., Demir, A., Dallmann, C. J., Jayaram, K., Cowan, N., Full, R. J. (2014).  Mechanical processing via passive dynamic properties of the cockroach antenna can facilitate control during rapid running.  J Exp Biol.  217(18).  3333–3345.
  • Lamperski, A., Cowan, N. (2014).  Optimal Control with Noisy Time.  IEEE Trans Autom Control.
  • Swensen, J. P., Lin, M., Okamura, A. M., Cowan, N. (2014).  Torsional Dynamics of Steerable Needles: Modeling and Fluoroscopic Guidance.  IEEE Trans Biomed Eng.  PP(99).  1-1.
  • Cowan, N., Ankarali, M. M., Dyhr, J. P., Madhav, M. S., Roth, E., Sefati, S., Sponberg, S., Stamper, S. A., Fortune, E. S., Daniel, T. L. (2014).  Feedback Control as a Framework for Understanding Tradeoffs in Biology.  Integr Comp Biol.  54(2).  223-237.
  • Roth, E., Sponberg, S., Cowan, N. (2014).  A Comparative Approach to Closed-Loop Computation.  Curr Opin Neurobiol.  25.  54-62.
  • Madhav, M. S., Stamper, S. A., Fortune, E. S., Cowan, N. (2013).  Closed-loop stabilization of the Jamming Avoidance Response reveals its locally unstable and globally nonlinear dynamics.  J Exp Biol.  216(22).  4272–4284.
  • Dyhr, J. P., Daniel, T. L., Morgansen, K. A., Cowan, N. (2013).  Flexible strategies for flight control: an active role for the abdomen.  J Exp Biol.  216(9).  1523-1536.
  • Mongeau, J., Demir, A., Lee, J., Cowan, N., Full, R. J. (2013).  Locomotion- and mechanics-mediated tactile sensing: antenna reconfiguration simplifies control during high-speed navigation in cockroaches.  J Exp Biol.  216(24).  4530-4541.
  • Sefati, S., Neveln, I. D., Roth, E., Mitchell, T., Snyder, J. B., MacIver, M. A., Fortune, E. S., Cowan, N. (2013).  Mutually opposing forces during locomotion can eliminate the tradeoff between maneuverability and stability.  Proc Nat Acad Sci.  110(47).  18798-18803.
  • Rosenberg, A., Angelaki, D. E., Cowan, N. (2013).  The Visual Representation of 3D Object Orientation in Parietal Cortex.  J Neurosci.  33(49).  19352-19361.
  • Stamper, S. A., Roth, E., Cowan, N., Fortune, E. S. (2012).  Active Sensing via Movement Shapes Spatiotemporal Patterns of Sensory Feedback.  J Exp Biol.  215(9).  1567-1574.
  • Stamper, S. A., Madhav, M. S., Cowan, N., Fortune, E. S. (2012).  Beyond the Jamming Avoidance Response: Weakly electric fish respond to the envelope of social electrosensory signals.  J Exp Biol.  215(23).  4196-4207.
  • Cowan, N., Chastain, E. J., Vilhena, D. A., Freudenberg, J. S., Bergstrom, C. T. (2012).  Nodal dynamics, not degree distributions, determine the structural controllability of complex networks.  PLoS ONE.  7(6).  e38398.
  • Reed, K. B., Majewicz, A., Kallem, V., Alterovitz, R., Goldberg, K., Cowan, N., Okamura, A. M. (2011).  Robot-Assisted Needle Steering.  IEEE Robot Autom Mag.  18(4).  35-46.
  • Roth, E., Zhuang, K., Stamper, S. A., Fortune, E. S., Cowan, N. (2011).  Stimulus predictability mediates a switch in locomotor smooth pursuit performance for Eigenmannia virescens..  J Exp Biol.  214(7).  1170–1180.
  • Rucker, D. C., Webster, III, R. J., Chirikjian, G., Cowan, N. (2010).  Equilibrium Conformations of Concentric-Tube Continuum Robots.  Int J Robot Res.  29.  1263–1280.
  • Kallem, V., Chang, D. E., Cowan, N. (2010).  Task-Induced Symmetry and Reduction With Application to Needle Steering.  IEEE Trans Autom Control.  55(3).  664 -673.
  • Reed, K. B., Okamura, A. M., Cowan, N. (2009).  Modeling and Control of Needles with Torsional Friction.  IEEE Trans Biomed Eng.  56(12).  2905–2916.
  • Kallem, V., Cowan, N. (2009).  Image Guidance of Flexible Tip-Steerable Needles.  IEEE Trans Robot.  25(1).  191–196.
  • Carver, S., Cowan, N., Guckenheimer, J. M. (2009).  Lateral Stability of the Spring-Mass Hopper suggests a two step control strategy for running.  Chaos.  19(2).
  • Webster, III, R. J., Romano, J. M., Cowan, N. (2009).  Mechanics of Precurved-Tube Continuum Robots.  IEEE Trans Robot.  25(1).  67–78.
  • Carver, S., Kiemel, T., Cowan, N., Jeka, J. J. (2009).  Optimal Motor Control May Mask Sensory Dynamics.  Biol Cybern.  101(1).  35–42.
  • Carver, S., Roth, E., Cowan, N., Fortune, E. S. (2008).  Synaptic plasticity can produce and enhance direction selectivity.  PLoS Comp Biol.  4(2).
  • Lee, J., Sponberg, S. N., Loh, O. Y., Lamperski, A. G., Full, R. J., Cowan, N. (2008).  Templates and Anchors for Antenna-Based Wall Following in Cockroaches and Robots.  IEEE Trans Robot.  24(1).  130–143.
  • Cowan, N. (2007).  Navigation Functions on Cross Product Spaces.  IEEE Trans Autom Control.  52(7).  1297-1302.
  • Cowan, N., Fortune, E. S. (2007).  The critical role of locomotion mechanics in decoding sensory systems.  J Neurosci.  27(5).  1123–1128.
  • Cowan, N., Lee, J., Full, R. J. (2006).  Task-Level Control of Rapid Wall Following in the American Cockroach.  J Exp Biol.  209(9).  1617–1629.
  • Webster, III, R. J., Kim, J., Cowan, N., Chirikjian, G., Okamura, A. M. (2006).  Nonholonomic Modeling of Needle Steering.  Int J Robot Res.  25(5/6).  509–526.
  • Cowan, N., Chang, D. E. (2005).  Geometric Visual Servoing.  IEEE Trans Robot.  21(6).  1128-1138.
  • Cowan, N., Weingarten, J. D., Koditschek, D. E. (2002).  Visual Servoing Via Navigation Functions.  IEEE Trans Robot Automat.  18(4).  521-533.
Book Chapters
  • Cowan, N., Goldberg, K., Chirikjian, G., Fichtinger, G., Alterovitz, R., Reed, K. B., Kallem, V., Park, W., Misra, S., Okamura, A. M. (2011).  Robotic Needle Steering: Design, Modeling, Planning, and Image Guidance..  Surgical Robotics – Systems, Applications, and Visions.  Springer.  557–582.
  • Swensen, J. P., Kallem, V., Cowan, N. (2010).  Empirical Characterization of Convergence Properties for Kernel-Based Visual Servoing.  Visual Servoing via Advanced Numerical Methods.  Springer.  401.  23-38.
  • Fortune, E. S., Cowan, N. (2010).  Robot Behavior.  Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior.  Academic Press, Oxford.  3.  87–90.
  • De, A., Lee, J., Keller, N., Cowan, N. (2010).  Toward SLAM on Graphs.  Algorithmic Foundations of Robotics VIII.  Springer-Verlag.  631–646.
  • Lee, J., Lamperski, A., Schmitt, J., Cowan, N. (2006).  Task-Level Control of the Lateral Leg Spring Model of Cockroach Locomotion.  Fast Motions in Biomechanics and Robotics: Optimization and Feedback Control.  Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.  340.  167-188.
  • Cowan, N. (2004).  Composing Navigation Functions on Cartesian Products of Manifolds with Boundary.  Algorithmic Foundations of Robotics VI.  Springer.  91–106.
  • Cowan, N., Ma, E. J., Cutkosky, M., Full, R. J. (2003).  A Biologically Inspired Passive Antenna for Steering Control of a Running Robot.  Robotics Research.  Springer.  540-550.
  • Cowan, N., Chang, D. E. (2002).  Toward Geometric Visual Servoing.  Control Problems in Robotics.  Springer-Verlag.  4.  233–248.
Conference Proceedings
  • Kunapareddy, A., Cowan, N. (2016).  Recovering Observability via Active Sensing.  Proc Amer Control Conf.
  • Sefati, S., Cowan, N., Vidal, R. (2015).  Linear Systems with Sparse Inputs: Observability and Input Recovery.  Proc Amer Control Conf.
  • Sefati, S., Cowan, N., Vidal, R. (2015).  Learning Shared, Discriminative Dictionaries for Surgical Gesture Segmentation and Classification.  MICCAI 6th Workshop on Modeling and Monitoring of Computer Assisted Interventions (M2CAI).
  • Uyanik, I., Ankarali, M. M., Cowan, N., Morgul, O., Saranli, U. (2015).  Toward Data-Driven Models of Legged Locomotion using Harmonic Transfer Functions.  Int Conf on Advanced Robotics.
  • Uyanik, I., Ankarali, M. M., Cowan, N., Saranli, U., Morgul, O., Ozbay, H. (2015).  Independent Estimation of Input and Measurement Delays for a Hybrid Vertical Spring-Mass-Damper via Harmonic Transfer Functions.  IFAC Workshop on Time Delay Systems.
  • Ankarali, M. M., Cowan, N. (2014).  System Identification of Rhythmic Hybrid Dynamical Systems via Discrete Time Harmonic Transfer Functions.  Proc IEEE Int Conf on Decision Control.
  • Lamperski, A., Cowan, N. (2013).  Time-changed Linear Quadratic Regulators.  Proc Euro Control Conf.
  • Carver, S., Fortune, E. S., Cowan, N. (2013).  State-Estimation and Cooperative Control with Uncertain Time.  Proc Amer Control Conf.  2990–2995.
  • Roth, E., Reiser, M. B., Dickinson, M. H., Cowan, N. (2012).  A Task-level Model for Optomotor Yaw Regulation in Drosophila Melanogaster: A Frequency-Domain System Identification Approach.  Proc IEEE Int Conf on Decision Control.
  • Dyhr, J. P., Cowan, N., Colmenares, D. J., Morgansen, K. A., Daniel, T. L. (2012).  Autostabilizing airframe articulation: Animal inspired air vehicle control.  Proc IEEE Int Conf on Decision Control.
  • Sefati, S., Neveln, I., MacIver, M. A., Fortune, E. S., Cowan, N. (2012).  Counter-Propagating waves enhance maneuverability and stability: a bio-inspired strategy for robotic ribbon-fin propulsion.  Proc IEEE Int Conf on Biomed Robot and Biomech.
  • Demir, A., Ankarali, M. M., Dyhr, J. P., Morgansen, K. A., Daniel, T. L., Cowan, N. (2012).  Inertial redirection of thrust forces for flight stabilization.  15th International Conference on Climbing and Walking Robots and the Support Technologies for Mobile Machines (CLAWAR).
  • Swensen, J. P., Cowan, N. (2012).  An Almost Global Estimator on SO(3) with Measurement on $S2$.  Proc Amer Control Conf.
  • Swensen, J. P., Cowan, N. (2012).  Torsional Dynamics Compensation Enhances Robotic Control of Tip-Steerable Needles.  Proc IEEE Int Conf Robot Autom.
  • Kallem, V., Chang, D. E., Cowan, N. (2011).  Observer Design for Needle Steering Using Task-Induced Symmetry and Reduction.  World Cong Intl Fed Autom Control.
  • Demir, A., Samson, E. W., Cowan, N. (2010).  A Tunable Physical Model of Arthropod Antennae.  Proc IEEE Int Conf Robot Autom.  3793-3798.
  • Webster, III, R. J., Swensen, J. P., Romano, J. M., Cowan, N. (2009).  Closed-Form Differential Kinematics for Concentric-Tube Continuum Robots with Application to Visual Servoing.  Experimental Robotics XI.  54(1).  485-494.
  • Reed, K. B., Okamura, A. M., Cowan, N. (2009).  Controlling a Robotically Steered Needle in the Presence of Torsional Friction.  Proc IEEE Int Conf Robot Autom.  3476-3481.
  • Webster, III, R. J., Romano, J. M., Cowan, N. (2008).  Kinematics and Calibration of Active Cannulas.  Proc IEEE Int Conf Robot Autom.  3888-3895.
  • Reed, K. B., Kallem, V., Alterovitz, R., Goldberg, K., Okamura, A. M., Cowan, N. (2008).  Integrated planning and image-guided control for planar needle-steering.  Proc IEEE Int Conf on Biomed Robot and Biomech.  819-824.
  • Lee, J., Loh, O. Y., Cowan, N. (2007).  A Hierarchy of Neuromechanical and Robotic Models of Antenna-Based Wall Following in Cockroaches.  Proc IEEE RSJ Int Conf Intell Robots Syst.  3547-3553.
  • Kallem, V., Dewan, M., Swensen, J. P., Hager, G., Cowan, N. (2007).  Kernel-Based Visual Servoing.  Proc IEEE RSJ Int Conf Intell Robots Syst.  1975–1980.
  • Kallem, V., Chang, D. E., Cowan, N. (2007).  Task-Induced Symmetry and Reduction in Kinematic Systems with Application to Needle Steering.  Proc IEEE RSJ Int Conf Intell Robots Syst.  3302–3308.
  • Kallem, V., Cowan, N. (2007).  Image-Guided Control of Flexible Bevel-Tip Needles.  Proc IEEE Int Conf Robot Autom.  3015–3020.
  • Webster, III, R. J., Okamura, A. O., Cowan, N. (2006).  Toward Active Cannulas: Miniature Snake-Like Surgical Robots.  Proc IEEE RSJ Int Conf Intell Robots Syst.  2857-2863.
  • Webster, III, R. J., Cowan, N., Chirikjian, G., Okamura, A. M. (2006).  Nonholonomic Models for Needle Steering.  Experimental Robotics IX.  21.  35–44.
  • Lamperski, A., Loh, O., Kutscher, B., Cowan, N. (2005).  Dynamical Wall-Following for a Wheeled Robot using a Passive Tactile Sensor.  Proc IEEE Int Conf Robot Autom.  3838-3843.
  • Park, W., Kim, J., Zhou, Y., Cowan, N., Okamura, A. M., Chirikjian, G. (2005).  Diffusion-Based Motion Planning for a Nonholonomic Flexible Needle Model.  Proc IEEE Int Conf Robot Autom.  4600–4605.
  • Piazzi, J., Cowan, N. (2004).  Multi-View Visual Servoing using Epipoles.  Proc IEEE RSJ Int Conf Intell Robots Syst.  1.  674-679.
  • Piazzi, J., Prattichizzo, D., Cowan, N. (2004).  Auto-epipolar Visual Servoing.  Proc IEEE RSJ Int Conf Intell Robots Syst.  1.  363-368.
  • Lawrence, G., Cowan, N., Russell, S. (2003).  Efficient Gradient Estimation for Motor Control Learning.  Proc Conf Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence.
  • Cowan, N., Shakernia, O., Vidal, R., Sastry, S. (2003).  Vision-based Follow-the-Leader.  Proc IEEE RSJ Int Conf Intell Robots Syst.  2.  1796- 1801.
  • Cowan, N. (2002).  Binocular Visual Servoing with a Limited Field of View.  Mathematical Theory of Networks and Systems.
  • Cowan, N., Weingarten, J. D., Koditschek, D. E. (2001).  Empirical Validation of a New Visual Servoing Stragegy.  Proc Conf Control Applications.  1117-1123.
  • Cowan, N., Lopes, G. A., Koditschek, D. E. (2000).  Rigid Body Visual Servoing using Navigation Functions.  Proc IEEE Int Conf on Decision Control.  3920-3926.
  • Cowan, N., Koditschek, D. E. (1999).  Planar Image Based Visual Servoing as a Navigation Problem.  Proc IEEE Int Conf Robot Autom.  1.  611-617.
  • Cowan, N., Koditschek, D. E. (1998).  Toward global visual servos and estimators for rigid bodies.  Proc IEEE Int Conf Robot Autom.  3.  2658-2663.
  • Fuerst, B., Cowan, N., Navab, N., Fortune, E.  "System and Method for Bioelectric Localization and Navigation of Interventional Medical Devices", 2013.
  • Chirikjian, G., Webster, R., Okamura, A., Cowan, N., Goldberg, K.  "Distal Bevel-Tip Needle Control Device and Algorithm", 2010.
  • Cowan, N., Webster, R., Okamura, A., Taylor, R.  "Active cannula for bio-sensing and surgical intervention"
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