LIDS was founded in 1940 under its original name, "Servomechanism Lab," and is the longest continuously-running lab at MIT. This timeline serves as a snapshot of contributions and breakthroughs over the course of the lab's impressive history.


Servomechanisms Lab established at MIT in 1940

Gordon Brown, Founding Director (1940-1952)


Leadership in theory and education in servomechanisms

Classic textbook Principles of Servomechanisms by Brown and Campbell


WWII military applications

Lab plays leadership role in fire control system development. Lab researchers design control and power systems for the U.S. Army’s 37mm gun mount and 40mm gun.


The Brookhaven Project

Lab researchers design power drives, instrumentation, and controls for reactor rods in the first peacetime nuclear reactors.


The Aircraft Stability and Control Analyzer (Whirlwind) Project

A powerful computer capable of simulating aircraft dynamics, WHIRLWIND I contributes to the development of random access, magnetic core memory.


Numerically controlled machines

Pioneering work on using digital computers as elements in control systems.



Gordon Brown (1940-1952), William Pease (1952-1953), J. Francis Reintjes (1953-1973)


Leadership in theory and education in feedback control

Several influential textbooks, including Analytical Design of Linear Feedback Controls by Newton, Gould, and Kaiser.


APT system and the beginnings of CAD

Lab develops automatic programming to facilitate continuous path control of machine tools.


Project Porcupine

Joint project with MIT Lincoln Laboratory focuses on developing pulse-doppler radar for air defense.


Lab’s name changed to Electronic Systems Laboratory in 1959  



J. Francis Reintjes (1953-1973)


Leadership in theory and education in modern control

ESL faculty plays leadership role in state space methods, optimal and stochastic control, estimation. Several influential textbooks, including Optimal Control by Athans and Falb, and Finite Dimensional Linear Systems by Roger Brockett.


Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Project

APT broadens to a system for the computer as a central element throughout the manufacturing process. Automatic Engineering Design programming language developed.


Project INTREX

Lab introduces the first major pioneering program in digital information transfer and retrieval.



J. Francis Reintjes (1953-1973), Michael Athans (1974-1981)


Leadership in theory and education in advanced control methods

ESL faculty continues to play leadership roles in linear-quadratic-Gaussian (LQG control), estimation and detection, optimization and dynamic programming, and the emerging topics of large-scale systems and decentralized control. Several influential texts including The Analysis of Feedback Systems by Jan Willems.


Avionics applications

Lab develops systems for cockpit air traffic situation displays, adaptive aircraft control, and automatic avionic failure detection.


Lab’s name changed to Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) in 1978

Reflecting a broadened intellectual agenda to include large-scale and networked systems and applications in manufacturing, transportation, econometrics, and data communication networks.



Michael Athans (1974-1981), Sanjoy Mitter (1981-1986), Co-Directors Sanjoy Mitter and Robert Gallager (1986-1999)


Leadership in theory and education

Significant advances in communication networks, optimization, nonlinear estimation, statistical signal and image processing. Numerous influential texts including Data Networks by Bertsekas and Gallager, and Signals and Systems by Oppenheim and Willsky.


The Center for Intelligent Control Systems founded

Funded by the U.S. Army, the joint endeavor with Brown and Harvard universitiesfocuses on fundamental advances in the information and decision sciences broadly defined.


Robust control and control system design

LIDS pioneers theoretical work sparking the emerging field of robust control and advances in adaptive control. Significant advances in numerical algorithms for control design and large-scale optimization.



The range of applications within LIDS continues to broaden to include distributed control and incident detection in traffic systems and military command and control systems.



Co-Directors Sanjoy Mitter and Robert Gallager (1986-1999), Vincent Chan (1999-2007)


Leadership in theory and education

Continued leadership in new courses at MIT – in robust control, identification, wireless networks, and optimization. Numerous texts including Control of Uncertain Systems: A Linear Programming Approach by Dahleh and Diaz-Bobillo, Representation and Control of Infinite Dimensional Systems by Bensoussan, Da Prato, Delfour, and Mitter, and Neurodynamic Programming by Bertsekas and Tsitsiklis.


Neuro-dynamic programming

LIDS develops this widely used methodology for large-scale dynamic optimization.


Advances and applications

LIDS contributes to significant advances in coding and information theory, large-scale statistical inference, and estimation. Applications expand to include remote sensing data assimilation, automotive control, and autonomously controlled air vehicles.

2000s to present


Vincent Chan (1999-2007), Director/Co-Director Thomas Magnanti/Alan Willsky (2007-2009), Alan Willsky (2009-2014), Acting Director Munther Dahleh (2010-2011), Interim Director Munther Dahleh (2014), Asu Ozdaglar (2014-2016), Interim Director Munther Dahleh (2017), John Tsitsiklis (2017-2020), Interim Director Eytan Modiano (2021), Sertac Karaman (2021-present)


Leadership in theory and education

New courses on inference and learning, network coding, and networks. Continuation of the development of leading texts, including Introduction to Probability by Bertsekas and Tsitsiklis.



LIDS contributes to developments in information theory, coding theory, optical networks, space networks, wideband communication systems, network  resource allocation and control, and the Internet of Things.


Data science and machine learning

With the addition of several new faculty members LIDS establishes a strong presence in these areas, with activities ranging from fundamental research in high-dimensional statistics to social data processing, among others.



LIDS develops and implements state of the art methods involving perception, planning, and control for autonomous vehicles, both terrestrial and aerial.


Expanding research

LIDS focus expands to include design and analysis of embedded control systems, natural language processing, social network analysis, biological data processing, networked dynamical systems, and network games. 


Organizational evolution

LIDS becomes a core research arm of the newly founded MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), in 2015. LIDS joins the new MIT Schwarzman College of Computing in 2020.