Masters of control
CDSC Director, Laureate Professor Graham Goodwin, uses the recent landing of a spacecraft on Mars to demonstrate the importance of mastering control systems.
"In terms of guidance and systems control, safely landing that spacecraft on a planet more than 100 million kilometres away is a fantastic achievement," the former Australian Research Council Federation Fellow said with more than a hint of admiration for the feat.
"We do not research landing spacecraft here but it is the perfect example of the wonders of control – which is the area we work in."
The team of internationally acclaimed Newcastle-based engineers is pioneering modern control system design and breaking new ground globally.
The world of Complex Dynamic Systems and Control (CDSC) is intricate but surprisingly simple to illustrate.
Goodwin explains almost everything we use in our everyday lives contains some form of control system, similar (although perhaps not as complex) to that used in the Mars landing.
Since its establishment in 2003, CDSC, now an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence, has given life to a host of fundamental research achievements and significant industry collaborations.
Whether in the field of mineral exploration, marine systems, mine planning or model-based control software, the Centre’s 60-plus team of engineers, mathematicians and statisticians is focused on developing cutting-edge process optimisation and control solutions.
Linked to the University’s schools of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Mathematical and Physical Sciences and the School of Mathematical Sciences at the Queensland University of Technology, the CDSC has seven major research programs:
- Control System Design
- Mathematical Systems Theory
- Bayesian Learning
- Signal Processing
- Industrial Control and Optimisation
- Distributed Sensing and Control
A host of industrial sponsors provide real-world challenges for the Centre as it hones in on how complex control problems can be addressed with alternative theoretical tools in the context of modern computational methods.
One example is the Centre’s work with BHP Billiton’s Newcastle Technology Centre on high-technology electromagnetic minerals exploration.
"We are looking at the signal-processing of what is basically a 1km2 metal detector," Goodwin said.
"Ore – which can be buried up to a kilometre underground – when pulsed by a large coil on the surface of the ground emits small electrical signals that can be picked up by the detector. The problem is sferics (the low frequency electromagnetic radiation from lightning strikes) interrupt the receivers, particularly in areas near the Equator, which can experience up to 100 lightning strikes a second.
"We are looking at ways to reduce the sferics interference and have developed broadband noise cancellation techniques using spatial correlation of atmospheric noise."
New technology sensors have also enabled the development of techniques for noise cancellation to frequencies as low as 4Hz.
"We are now developing a single, unbiased model for broadband multiple noise cancellation and the implementation of code that automates the model estimation and signal processing," added Goodwin.
From under the ground to over the seas, CDSC research is applied to all types of industry, with recent breakthroughs reducing the motion of Australian Customs Service vessels.
In collaboration with naval architecture company Halcyon International a CDSC team, led by Dr Tristan Perez, has developed control allocation strategies to reduce wave-induced motion in roll and pitch in high-speed sea-going vessels. The motion reduction is achieved using various force devices which, depending on how they are positioned on the hull, produce forces affecting either roll or pitch motion, or both.
The team developed a novel strategy to optimise the control forces produced in changing sailing conditions. The strategy was added to Halcyon’s existing ride control system – improving performance and contributing to the company winning a contract for the upgrade of the Bay Class Patrol Boat fleet of the Australian Customs Service.