Photo of Rudolf E. Kálmán

Rudolf E. Kálmán

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering

For his fundamental contributions to modern system theory, which provided rigorous mathematical tools for engineering, econometrics, and statistics, and in particular for his invention of the Kalman filter,” which was critical to achieving the Moon landings and creating the Global Positioning System and which has facilitated the use of computers in control and communications technology.”

Hungarian-born American electrical engineer, mathematician, and inventor Rudolf Emil Kálmán helped develop the now famous “Kalman filter,” an algorithm that removes “noise” from streams of data and increases accuracy.

Inspired by his father, Kálmán decided to follow in his footsteps by pursuing electrical engineering. Receiving his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from M.I.T. in 1953 and 1954, he later continued his studies at Columbia University in the late 1950s. Soon after, Kálmán would conceptualize his breakthrough technique the following decade.

With a philosophy of teaching by example, his research moved him to Gainsville, Florida in the 1970s. Kálmán would serve as the Departments of Mathematics, Electrical Engineering, and Industrial and Systems Engineering Graduate Research Professor, and simultaneously as the Director of the Center for Mathematical System Theory.

His discovery would become a vital instrument in the aeronautical and military fields of systems and control. The algorithm gave flight to the success of the Apollo program in first sending humans to the moon. Its applications would extend beyond the early moon-landing days to modern technological and scientific developments across disciplines, including computer vision, econometrics, GPS and even weather forecasting.

By Melissa Ayala