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Feedback Control For Computer Systems

This blog intends to explore the concepts of feedback control applied to computer science. We will make use of the Scala programming language as well as the ReactiveX Framework. The concepts regarding feedback systems, as well as some of the images presented in this blog, are taken from the book Feedback Control for Computer Systems [1] by Philipp K. Janert. Although feedback control can generally be described in terms of complicated mathematics, this blog does not cover those but will rather focus on the higher level concepts and some practical applications related to computer science.

Feedback Control for Computer Systems

  • I am thankful for the help and suggestions of a number of people. Without them this blog would not have been written!Philipp K. Janert, author of the book Feedback Control for Computer Systems for answering several additional questions and help with the controller tuning

  • Erik Meijer for suggesting this topic and advice along the way of writing this blog

  • Mike de Waard for his feedback and co-reading the blog

  • Lars Willems for his feedback and co-reading the blog

Enterprise systems are often built to maintain a flow of arbitrary items in a sequence of processing steps. For example, an online retailer wants to manage the flow of packages through its facilities. As a control mechanism the number of pending orders released to the warehouses per time unit is used. The main problem for this control mechanism is how to throttle this flow such that the warehouses are not idle, but are not overflowing either.

A solution to this problem that also incorporates this uncertainty is called feedback control. Here a certain metric is continuously measured and compared to a reference signal. The system's output then is adjusted based on the difference between the reference signal and the metric's result. In the retailer example, this metric may well be the number of orders that are currently being processed in the warehouses. Comparing this metric to a certain reference number gives insight in how to throttle the stream, either increasing or decreasing it or keeping it as it currently is.

Important however is that feedback control is not about optimization. Tasks like ''Make the flow through the system as large as possible'' cannot be solved by feedback control alone. These types of tasks instead need an optimization strategy. This however does not infer that feedback control cannot be used in optimization problems. Often the reference signal is determined by the optimization strategy.

Feedback is ideal for controlling large, complex systems, but its usein software engineering raises unique issues. This book provides basictheory and lots of practical advice for programmers with no previousbackground in feedback control.

Control theory is a field of control engineering and applied mathematics that deals with the control of dynamical systems in engineered processes and machines. The objective is to develop a model or algorithm governing the application of system inputs to drive the system to a desired state, while minimizing any delay, overshoot, or steady-state error and ensuring a level of control stability; often with the aim to achieve a degree of optimality.

To do this, a controller with the requisite corrective behavior is required. This controller monitors the controlled process variable (PV), and compares it with the reference or set point (SP). The difference between actual and desired value of the process variable, called the error signal, or SP-PV error, is applied as feedback to generate a control action to bring the controlled process variable to the same value as the set point. Other aspects which are also studied are controllability and observability. Control theory is used in control system engineering to design automation that have revolutionized manufacturing, aircraft, communications and other industries, and created new fields such as robotics.

Control theory dates from the 19th century, when the theoretical basis for the operation of governors was first described by James Clerk Maxwell.[1] Control theory was further advanced by Edward Routh in 1874, Charles Sturm and in 1895, Adolf Hurwitz, who all contributed to the establishment of control stability criteria; and from 1922 onwards, the development of PID control theory by Nicolas Minorsky.[2]Although a major application of mathematical control theory is in control systems engineering, which deals with the design of process control systems for industry, other applications range far beyond this. As the general theory of feedback systems, control theory is useful wherever feedback occurs - thus control theory also has applications in life sciences, computer engineering, sociology and operations research.[3]

By World War II, control theory was becoming an important area of research. Irmgard Flügge-Lotz developed the theory of discontinuous automatic control systems, and applied the bang-bang principle to the development of automatic flight control equipment for aircraft.[9][10] Other areas of application for discontinuous controls included fire-control systems, guidance systems and electronics.

Sometimes, mechanical methods are used to improve the stability of systems. For example, ship stabilizers are fins mounted beneath the waterline and emerging laterally. In contemporary vessels, they may be gyroscopically controlled active fins, which have the capacity to change their angle of attack to counteract roll caused by wind or waves acting on the ship.

In closed loop control, the control action from the controller is dependent on the process output. In the case of the boiler analogy this would include a thermostat to monitor the building temperature, and thereby feed back a signal to ensure the controller maintains the building at the temperature set on the thermostat. A closed loop controller therefore has a feedback loop which ensures the controller exerts a control action to give a process output the same as the "reference input" or "set point". For this reason, closed loop controllers are also called feedback controllers.[11]

The definition of a closed loop control system according to the British Standard Institution is "a control system possessing monitoring feedback, the deviation signal formed as a result of this feedback being used to control the action of a final control element in such a way as to tend to reduce the deviation to zero."[12]

A closed-loop controller or feedback controller is a control loop which incorporates feedback, in contrast to an open-loop controller or non-feedback controller.A closed-loop controller uses feedback to control states or outputs of a dynamical system. Its name comes from the information path in the system: process inputs (e.g., voltage applied to an electric motor) have an effect on the process outputs (e.g., speed or torque of the motor), which is measured with sensors and processed by the controller; the result (the control signal) is "fed back" as input to the process, closing the loop.

In the case of linear feedback systems, a control loop including sensors, control algorithms, and actuators is arranged in an attempt to regulate a variable at a setpoint (SP). An everyday example is the cruise control on a road vehicle; where external influences such as hills would cause speed changes, and the driver has the ability to alter the desired set speed. The PID algorithm in the controller restores the actual speed to the desired speed in an optimum way, with minimal delay or overshoot, by controlling the power output of the vehicle's engine.Control systems that include some sensing of the results they are trying to achieve are making use of feedback and can adapt to varying circumstances to some extent. Open-loop control systems do not make use of feedback, and run only in pre-arranged ways.

In some systems, closed-loop and open-loop control are used simultaneously. In such systems, the open-loop control is termed feedforward and serves to further improve reference tracking performance.

In contrast to the frequency domain analysis of the classical control theory, modern control theory utilizes the time-domain state space representation,[citation needed] a mathematical model of a physical system as a set of input, output and state variables related by first-order differential equations. To abstract from the number of inputs, outputs, and states, the variables are expressed as vectors and the differential and algebraic equations are written in matrix form (the latter only being possible when the dynamical system is linear). The state space representation (also known as the "time-domain approach") provides a convenient and compact way to model and analyze systems with multiple inputs and outputs. With inputs and outputs, we would otherwise have to write down Laplace transforms to encode all the information about a system. Unlike the frequency domain approach, the use of the state-space representation is not limited to systems with linear components and zero initial conditions. "State space" refers to the space whose axes are the state variables. The state of the system can be represented as a point within that space.[15][16]

The scope of classical control theory is limited to single-input and single-output (SISO) system design, except when analyzing for disturbance rejection using a second input. The system analysis is carried out in the time domain using differential equations, in the complex-s domain with the Laplace transform, or in the frequency domain by transforming from the complex-s domain. Many systems may be assumed to have a second order and single variable system response in the time domain. A controller designed using classical theory often requires on-site tuning due to incorrect design approximations. Yet, due to the easier physical implementation of classical controller designs as compared to systems designed using modern control theory, these controllers are preferred in most industrial applications. The most common controllers designed using classical control theory are PID controllers. A less common implementation may include either or both a Lead or Lag filter. The ultimate end goal is to meet requirements typically provided in the time-domain called the step response, or at times in the frequency domain called the open-loop response. The step response characteristics applied in a specification are typically percent overshoot, settling time, etc. The open-loop response characteristics applied in a specification are typically Gain and Phase margin and bandwidth. These characteristics may be evaluated through simulation including a dynamic model of the system under control coupled with the compensation model. 041b061a72

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