Alexandre Bayen named CITRIS director

Collage of five photos: digital traffic map, person throwing floating sensors into river, Alexandre Bayen portrait, traffic on the Bay Bridge, plane flying over traffic control tower.
Third and fourth photos from left by Adam Lau.

Alexandre M. Bayen, Liao-Cho Innovation Endowed Chair and professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and associate provost for the Berkeley Space Center, has been appointed the director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS), a California Institute for Science and Innovation at the University of California (UC).

In his new role, Bayen will provide strategic direction to advance a research, entrepreneurship and outreach agenda that aligns with CITRIS’s mission to harness the power of information technology to address societal challenges. He will also lead the coordination of all programmatic activities across the four CITRIS campuses at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. 

“I have been part of the CITRIS family for nearly two decades, since before I set foot on the UC Berkeley campus as a faculty member. CITRIS has been a driving force behind most of my research projects and my academic journey. I feel tremendously honored to be given the opportunity to lead the vision of CITRIS for the years to come,” said Bayen. 

With extensive expertise in control theory, optimization, machine learning, mathematical  modeling and data science, Bayen brings substantial experience to the position. Early in his career, he pioneered transformative solutions to complex monitoring and control issues in urban and advanced air mobility such as air traffic control and mobile sensing for water and traffic monitoring systems. Employing mathematical models and their early cloud implementations, he developed smarter, more adaptive systems that are capable of making real-time decisions and delivering accurate predictions.

Bayen pursued applied mathematics during his undergraduate studies at Ecole Polytechnique in France. He earned his doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University while working at NASA Ames, before joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 2005. Bayen has held numerous academic leadership positions, including director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) Transportation Initiative from 2015–18 and director of the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies from 2014–21. He currently serves as faculty scientist in mechanical engineering at LBNL. He also directs the UC Berkeley Mobile Sensing Lab

Bayen’s research interests span multiple information technology sectors, resulting in many fruitful collaborations with CITRIS during his 18-year career.

“CITRIS almost instantaneously changed the course of my work and academic career,” he said. “Soon after joining UC Berkeley in 2005, through conversations with CITRIS leadership at the time, I realized the potential of mobile sensing, and how my previous knowledge in nonlinear hyperbolic partial differential equations could lead to new applications. This led to two major projects of my early career as an assistant professor, both started at CITRIS: Mobile Millennium and the Floating Sensor Network.”

The innovative traffic information system, Mobile Millenium, was a collaborative effort between Nokia, Navteq, UC Berkeley, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the California Department of Transportation, and harnessed data from in-car navigation systems and GPS-enabled mobile devices like smartphones to collect real-time traffic information. Originated from a CITRIS gathering in Europe organized under the guidance of Paul Wright during his tenure as CITRIS director, the project was developed and launched from CITRIS’s original location in UC Berkeley’s Hearst Memorial Mining Building in 2008. Upon the inauguration of CITRIS’s new headquarters in Sutardja Dai Hall, Mobile Millennium was one of the first projects showcased in the Tech Museum on the main floor.

“The CITRIS Tech Museum enabled me to raise the visibility of Mobile Millennium and the Floating Sensor Network which catalyzed funding for more transportation projects. This shaped my work by bridging the last years of the IoT hype — based on smartphone-based traffic sensing — to the current era of AI, facilitating the expansion of my work into the realm of self-driving vehicles,” said Bayen.

In addition to his work to engineer safer highways, Bayen applied his expertise to social and societal benefit in other domains. He was a co-founder of SafelyYou, a startup now led by his former graduate student, George Netscher. The venture, a recipient of a 2015 CITRIS Seed Award, greatly benefited from connections with CITRIS Health in its early stages, and aims to reduce fall-related injuries for patients with dementia by utilizing AI and video monitoring technology in senior care facilities. Bayen served as the chief scientist of SafelyYou until 2018, and the company retains its CITRIS connection with David Lindeman, executive director of CITRIS Health, who holds a place on its advisory board. 

Bayen was also among the first researchers to join the CITRIS Aviation, launched in late 2021. The initiative convenes more than 60 experts across the four CITRIS campuses to uncover potential opportunities for collaborations on emerging technologies, applications and policies related to aerial vehicles. 

Bayen’s pivotal role as associate provost in establishing the newly announced Berkeley Space Center — a joint venture at the NASA Ames Research Center, between UC Berkeley and developer SKS Partners that will foster advancements in aviation, space exploration and other deep technologies — could stimulate additional opportunities. 

“We are delighted to have Alex lead the team and bring his considerable experience to support CITRIS’s work,” said incumbent Director Costas J. Spanos, the Andrew S. Grove Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley. “He has been closely affiliated with CITRIS for most of his career, and his dedication to developing new technology while considering its social impact is well aligned with CITRIS’s mission and goals. He will serve the institution well as its new director.”

“Alex Bayen’s extensive expertise and wide-ranging experience align exceptionally well with the CITRIS mission. I know that Alex will continue to enhance the vibrant CITRIS ecosystem that brings together researchers from all four campuses building on the strong foundations established by his predecessors,” said Kathy Yelick, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research. “The outgoing director Costas Spanos provided outstanding leadership over the past decade.

On Jan. 1, 2024, Bayen will take over leadership of CITRIS from Spanos, who served as director since 2014