Section: Research Program

Geometric control theory

The main research topic of the project-team is geometric control, with a special focus on control design. The application areas that we target are control of quantum mechanical systems, neurogeometry and switched systems.

Geometric control theory provides a viewpoint and several tools, issued in particular from differential geometry, to tackle typical questions arising in the control framework: controllability, observability, stabilization, optimal control... [22], [56] The geometric control approach is particularly well suited for systems involving nonlinear and nonholonomic phenomena. We recall that nonholonomicity refers to the property of a velocity constraint that is not equivalent to a state constraint.

The expression control design refers here to all phases of the construction of a control law, in a mainly open-loop perspective: modeling, controllability analysis, output tracking, motion planning, simultaneous control algorithms, tracking algorithms, performance comparisons for control and tracking algorithms, simulation and implementation.

We recall that

  • controllability denotes the property of a system for which any two states can be connected by a trajectory corresponding to an admissible control law ;

  • output tracking refers to a control strategy aiming at keeping the value of some functions of the state arbitrarily close to a prescribed time-dependent profile. A typical example is configuration tracking for a mechanical system, in which the controls act as forces and one prescribes the position variables along the trajectory, while the evolution of the momenta is free. One can think for instance at the lateral movement of a car-like vehicle: even if such a movement is unfeasible, it can be tracked with arbitrary precision by applying a suitable control strategy;

  • motion planning is the expression usually denoting the algorithmic strategy for selecting one control law steering the system from a given initial state to an attainable final one;

  • simultaneous control concerns algorithms that aim at driving the system from two different initial conditions, with the same control law and over the same time interval, towards two given final states (one can think, for instance, at some control action on a fluid whose goal is to steer simultaneously two floating bodies.) Clearly, the study of which pairs (or n-uples) of states can be simultaneously connected thanks to an admissible control requires an additional controllability analysis with respect to the plain controllability mentioned above.

At the core of control design is then the notion of motion planning. Among the motion planning methods, a preeminent role is played by those based on the Lie algebra associated with the control system ( [76], [63], [69]), those exploiting the possible flatness of the system ( [50]) and those based on the continuation method ( [88]). Optimal control is clearly another method for choosing a control law connecting two states, although it generally introduces new computational and theoretical difficulties.

Control systems with special structure, which are very important for applications are those for which the controls appear linearly. When the controls are not bounded, this means that the admissible velocities form a distribution in the tangent bundle to the state manifold. If the distribution is equipped with a smoothly varying norm (representing a cost of the control), the resulting geometrical structure is called sub-Riemannian. Sub-Riemannian geometry thus appears as the underlying geometry of the nonholonomic control systems, playing the same role as Euclidean geometry for linear systems. As such, its study is fundamental for control design. Moreover its importance goes far beyond control theory and is an active field of research both in differential geometry ( [75]), geometric measure theory ( [51], [26]) and hypoelliptic operator theory ( [38]).

Other important classes of control systems are those modeling mechanical systems. The dynamics are naturally defined on the tangent or cotangent bundle of the configuration manifold, they have Lagrangian or Hamiltonian structure, and the controls act as forces. When the controls appear linearly, the resulting model can be seen somehow as a second-order sub-Riemannian structure (see [43]).

The control design topics presented above naturally extend to the case of distributed parameter control systems. The geometric approach to control systems governed by partial differential equations is a novel subject with great potential. It could complement purely analytical and numerical approaches, thanks to its more dynamical, qualitative and intrinsic point of view. An interesting example of this approach is the paper [23] about the controllability of Navier–Stokes equation by low forcing modes.