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Nonlinear optimal control for UAVs with tilting rotors

Gerasimos G. Rigatos (Unit of Industrial Automation, Industrial Systems Institute, Patras, Greece)
Masoud Abbaszadeh (Department of Electrical Computer and Systems Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, USA)
Bilal Sari (Department of Electrical Engineering, Université Ferhat Abbas Setif 1, Setif, Algeria)
Jorge Pomares (Department of Systems Engineering, University of Alicante, Alicante, Spain)

International Journal of Intelligent Unmanned Systems

ISSN: 2049-6427

Article publication date: 25 July 2023

Issue publication date: 24 January 2024

87

Abstract

Purpose

A distinctive feature of tilt-rotor UAVs is that they can be fully actuated, whereas in fixed-angle rotor UAVs (e.g. common-type quadrotors, octorotors, etc.), the associated dynamic model is characterized by underactuation. Because of the existence of more control inputs, in tilt-rotor UAVs, there is more flexibility in the solution of the associated nonlinear control problem. On the other side, the dynamic model of the tilt-rotor UAVs remains nonlinear and multivariable and this imposes difficulty in the drone's controller design. This paper aims to achieve simultaneously precise tracking of trajectories and minimization of energy dissipation by the UAV's rotors. To this end elaborated control methods have to be developed.

Design/methodology/approach

A solution of the nonlinear control problem of tilt-rotor UAVs is attempted using a novel nonlinear optimal control method. This method is characterized by computational simplicity, clear implementation stages and proven global stability properties. At the first stage, approximate linearization is performed on the dynamic model of the tilt-rotor UAV with the use of first-order Taylor series expansion and through the computation of the system's Jacobian matrices. This linearization process is carried out at each sampling instance, around a temporary operating point which is defined by the present value of the tilt-rotor UAV's state vector and by the last sampled value of the control inputs vector. At the second stage, an H-infinity stabilizing controller is designed for the approximately linearized model of the tilt-rotor UAV. To find the feedback gains of the controller, an algebraic Riccati equation is repetitively solved, at each time-step of the control method. Lyapunov stability analysis is used to prove the global stability properties of the control scheme. Moreover, the H-infinity Kalman filter is used as a robust observer so as to enable state estimation-based control. The paper's nonlinear optimal control approach achieves fast and accurate tracking of reference setpoints under moderate variations of the control inputs. Finally, the nonlinear optimal control approach for UAVs with tilting rotors is compared against flatness-based control in successive loops, with the latter method to be also exhibiting satisfactory performance.

Findings

So far, nonlinear model predictive control (NMPC) methods have been of questionable performance in treating the nonlinear optimal control problem for tilt-rotor UAVs because NMPC's convergence to optimum depends often on the empirical selection of parameters while also lacking a global stability proof. In the present paper, a novel nonlinear optimal control method is proposed for solving the nonlinear optimal control problem of tilt rotor UAVs. Firstly, by following the assumption of small tilting angles, the state-space model of the UAV is formulated and conditions of differential flatness are given about it. Next, to implement the nonlinear optimal control method, the dynamic model of the tilt-rotor UAV undergoes approximate linearization at each sampling instance around a temporary operating point which is defined by the present value of the system's state vector and by the last sampled value of the control inputs vector. The linearization process is based on first-order Taylor series expansion and on the computation of the associated Jacobian matrices. The modelling error, which is due to the truncation of higher-order terms from the Taylor series, is considered to be a perturbation that is asymptotically compensated by the robustness of the control scheme. For the linearized model of the UAV, an H-infinity stabilizing feedback controller is designed. To select the feedback gains of the H-infinity controller, an algebraic Riccati equation has to be repetitively solved at each time-step of the control method. The stability properties of the control scheme are analysed with the Lyapunov method.

Research limitations/implications

There are no research limitations in the nonlinear optimal control method for tilt-rotor UAVs. The proposed nonlinear optimal control method achieves fast and accurate tracking of setpoints by all state variables of the tilt-rotor UAV under moderate variations of the control inputs. Compared to past approaches for treating the nonlinear optimal (H-infinity) control problem, the paper's approach is applicable also to dynamical systems which have a non-constant control inputs gain matrix. Furthermore, it uses a new Riccati equation to compute the controller's gains and follows a novel Lyapunov analysis to prove global stability for the control loop.

Practical implications

There are no practical implications in the application of the nonlinear optimal control method for tilt-rotor UAVs. On the contrary, the nonlinear optimal control method is applicable to a wider class of dynamical systems than approaches based on the solution of state-dependent Riccati equations (SDRE). The SDRE approaches can be applied only to dynamical systems which can be transformed to the linear parameter varying (LPV) form. Besides, the nonlinear optimal control method performs better than nonlinear optimal control schemes which use approximation of the solution of the Hamilton–Jacobi–Bellman equation by Galerkin series expansions. The stability properties of the Galerkin series expansion-based optimal control approaches are still unproven.

Social implications

The proposed nonlinear optimal control method is suitable for using in various types of robots, including robotic manipulators and autonomous vehicles. By treating nonlinear control problems for complicated robotic systems, the proposed nonlinear optimal control method can have a positive impact towards economic development. So far the method has been used successfully in (1) industrial robotics: robotic manipulators and networked robotic systems. One can note applications to fully actuated robotic manipulators, redundant manipulators, underactuated manipulators, cranes and load handling systems, time-delayed robotic systems, closed kinematic chain manipulators, flexible-link manipulators and micromanipulators and (2) transportation systems: autonomous vehicles and mobile robots. Besides, one can note applications to two-wheel and unicycle-type vehicles, four-wheel drive vehicles, four-wheel steering vehicles, articulated vehicles, truck and trailer systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned surface vessels, autonomous underwater vessels and underactuated vessels.

Originality/value

The proposed nonlinear optimal control method is a novel and genuine result and is used for the first time in the dynamic model of tilt-rotor UAVs. The nonlinear optimal control approach exhibits advantages against other control schemes one could have considered for the tilt-rotor UAV dynamics. For instance, (1) compared to the global linearization-based control schemes (such as Lie algebra-based control or flatness-based control), it does not require complicated changes of state variables (diffeomorphisms) and transformation of the system's state-space description. Consequently, it also avoids inverse transformations which may come against singularity problems, (2) compared to NMPC, the proposed nonlinear optimal control method is of proven global stability and the convergence of its iterative search for an optimum does not depend on initialization and controller's parametrization, (3) compared to sliding-mode control and backstepping control the application of the nonlinear optimal control method is not constrained into dynamical systems of a specific state-space form. It is known that unless the controlled system is found in the input–output linearized form, the definition of the associated sliding surfaces is an empirical procedure. Besides, unless the controlled system is found in the backstepping integral (triangular) form, the application of backstepping control is not possible, (4) compared to PID control, the nonlinear optimal control method is of proven global stability and its performance is not dependent on heuristics-based selection of parameters of the controller and (5) compared to multiple-model-based optimal control, the nonlinear optimal control method requires the computation of only one linearization point and the solution of only one Riccati equation.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research work has been partially supported by Grant Ref. 301022 ‘Nonlinear optimal and flatness-based control method for complex dynamical systems’ of the Unit of Industrial Automation of the Industrial Systems Institute.

Citation

Rigatos, G.G., Abbaszadeh, M., Sari, B. and Pomares, J. (2024), "Nonlinear optimal control for UAVs with tilting rotors", International Journal of Intelligent Unmanned Systems, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 32-104. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJIUS-02-2023-0018

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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