Warren B. Powell

Biography It can become difficult to sort through almost 40 years of professional experience and identify the work that matters the most. Below is an attempt – I am sure this will evolve. This work could not have taken place without the contributions of over 60 graduate students and post-docs, and over 200 undergraduate senior theses. Of particular importance in my industrial work are the contributions of my long-time senior staff member, Dr. Hugo Simao.

  • Warren Powell the Chief Analytics Officer of Optimal Dynamics, and is a Professor Emeritus after retiring from Princeton  where he served as a faculty member in the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering at Princeton University where he has taught since 1981. In 1990, he founded CASTLE Laboratory which spans research in computational stochastic optimization with applications initially in transportation and logistics. In 2011, he founded the Princeton laboratory for ENergy Systems Analysis (PENSA) to tackle the rich array of problems in energy systems analysis. In 2013, this morphed into “CASTLE Labs,” focusing on computational stochastic optimization and learning.
  • In the 1980’s, he designed and wrote SYSNET, an interactive optimization model for load planning at Yellow Freight System, where it is still in use after 25 years. In 1988, he founded the Princeton Transportation Consulting Group which marketed the model as SuperSPIN, which was adopted by the entire less-than-truckload industry, stabilizing an industry where 80 percent of the companies went bankrupt in the first post-deregulation decade. SuperSPIN was used in the planning of American Freightways (which became FedEx Freight), Roadway Package System (which became FedEx Ground), and Overnight Transportation (which became UPS Freight). SuperSPIN stabilized the LTL trucking industry in the 1990’s, following its deregulation in 1980.
  • Also in the 1980’s he developed a series of models for truckload trucking, starting with LoadMAP (written by Ken Nickerson ’84), which then evolved to an integrated stochastic model for driver assignment called MicroMAP (the senior thesis of David Cape ’87). As of 2011, MicroMAP was being used to dispatch over 66,000 drivers for 20 of the largest truckload carriers in the U.S.
  • He has started three companies: Princeton Transportation Consulting Group (1988),  Transport Dynamics (1995), and Optimal Dynamics (2017) (CEO is his son Daniel Powell), but he has continued to do his developmental work through CASTLE Laboratory at Princeton University, where he has worked with the leading companies in less-than-truckload trucking (Yellow Freight System/YRC), parcel shipping (United Parcel Service), truckload trucking (Schneider National), rail (primarily Norfolk Southern Railway), air (Netjets and Embraer), as well as the Air Mobility Command. As he moved into energy, he has worked with PJM Interconnections (the grid operator for the mid-Atlantic states), and PSE&G (the utility that serves 75 percent of New Jersey). Click here for a complete list.
  • Motivated by these applications, he developed a method for bridging dynamic programming with math programming to solve very high-dimensional stochastic, dynamic programs using the modeling and algorithmic framework of approximate dynamic programming. This work has been used in a variety of applications including fleet management at Schneider National (50,000 variables per time period, and a state variable with 10^{20} dimensions), the SMART energy resource planning model (175,000 time periods), and locomotive optimization at Norfolk Southern.
  • He identified four fundamental classes of policies for solving sequential decision problems, integrating fields such as stochastic programming, dynamic programming (including approximate dynamic programming/reinforcement learning), robust optimization, optimal control and stochastic search (to name a few). This work identified a new class of policy called a parametric cost function approximation (click here for more information).
  • His work in industry is balanced by contributions to the theory of stochastic optimization, and machine learning.
  • Prizes and awards –
    • Winner 2022 Saul Gass Expository Writing Award given by Informs for recognizes the impact a body of work has had in advancing OR methodology and its application, and that this impact is due not only to mathematical and computational excellence, but also to expository excellence.
    • Winner 2021 Robert Herman Lifetime Achievement Award given once every two years by the Society on Transportation Science and Logistics (Informs) to “an individual who throughout his or her professional career has made fundamental and sustained contributions to transportation science and logistics, and has influenced the field through her or his writings, teaching, service, and nurturing of younger professionals.”
    • Recipient Docteur Honoris Causa from the University of Quebec in Montreal in 2013.
    • Winner, Daniel Wagner Prize for extending approximate dynamic programming to very high-dimensional problems for Schneider National.
    • Best Paper Prize from the Society for Transportation Science and Logistics, once for the use of ADP for the work at Schneider National, and again for use of ADP for optimizing locomotives at Nortfolk Southern Railway.
    • His students have won many awards (Dantzig Prize for best dissertation in Operations Research, several winners of the Transportation Science dissertation prize, Doing Good with Good OR Competition honorable mention, Nicholson Prize finalist). Finalist in the prestigious Edelman competition in 1987 and 1991.
    • Informs Fellows Award, Presidential Young Investigator Award.
  • Books: He is the author of Reinforcement Learning and Stochastic Optimization: A unified framework for sequential decisionsApproximate Dynamic Programming: Solving the curses of dimensionality and co-author (with Ilya Ryzhov) of Optimal Learning (both published by Wiley). Co-editor (with J. Si, A. Barto, and D. Wunsch) Learning and Approximate Dynamic Programming: Scaling up to the Real World.
  • Just the numbers: $50+ million in research funding (in 2020 dollars), 250+ refereed papers, four books (plus an edited volume), ~60 Ph.D. students and post-docs (~30 in academia and research laboratories), 10 Masters, 200+ undergraduate senior theses, h-number (on Google) of 79, 25,000+ citations, 36,000+ visitors per year to my websites, ~23,000+ connections on LinkedIn (some miniscule number on Facebook)… (let me know if you can think of any more).
  • He has served in numerous leadership and service roles, including President of the Transportation Science Section, Informs board of directors, director of several NSF workshops, chair of the 2016 conference for the Informs Optimization Society, Area Editor for transportation at Operations Research (8 years!), and numerous prize, review and service committees. In 1991 he co-founded the triennial conference TRISTAN, now the leading international conference for transportation systems analysis. In 2003 he designed the Informs Impact Prize and served as the first chair in 2004.
  • Click here for my full c.v.  Note that I use this for reporting purposes, so it includes, among the usual chatter, everything that I have to put in various progress reports for funding agencies and the university.