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Distributed Estimation and Control in Networked Systems


Gupta, Vijay (2007) Distributed Estimation and Control in Networked Systems. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/KWN2-X741.


Rapid advances in information processing, communication and sensing technologies have enabled more and more devices to be provided with embedded processors, networking capabilities and sensors. For the field of estimation and control, it is now possible to consider an architecture in which many simple components communicate and cooperate to achieve a joint team goal. This distributed (or networked) architecture promises much in terms of performance, reliability and simplicity of design; however, at the same time, it requires extending the traditional theories of control, communication and computation and, in fact, looking at a unified picture of the three fields. A systematic theory of how to design distributed systems is currently lacking.

This dissertation takes the first steps towards understanding the effects of imperfect information flow in distributed systems from an estimation and control perspective and coming up with new design principles to counter these effects. Designing networked systems is difficult because such systems challenge two basic assumptions of traditional control theory - presence of a central node with access to all the information about the system and perfect transmission of information among components. We formulate and solve many problems that deal with the removal of one, or both, of these assumptions. The chief idea explored in this dissertation is the joint design of information flow and the control law. While traditional control design has concentrated on calculating the optimal control input by assuming a particular information flow between the components, our approach seeks to synthesize the optimal information flow along with the optimal control law that satisfies the constraints of the information flow. Thus besides the question of 'What should an agent do?', the questions of 'Whom should an agent talk to?', 'What should an agent communicate?', 'When should an agent communicate?' and so on also have to be answered. The design of the information flow represents an important degree of freedom available to the system designer that has hitherto largely been ignored. As we demonstrate in the dissertation, the joint design of information flow and the optimal control input satisfying the constraints of that information flow yields large improvements in performance over simply trying to fit traditional design theories on distributed systems.

We begin by formulating a distributed control problem in which many agents in a formation need to cooperate to minimize a joint cost function. We provide numerical algorithms to synthesize the optimal constrained control law that involve solving linear equations only and hence are free from numerical issues plaguing the other approaches proposed in the literature. We then provide and analyze a model to understand the issue of designing the topology according to which the agents interact. The results are very surprising since there are cases when allowing communication to happen between two agents may, in fact, be detrimental to the performance.

We then move on to consider the effects of communication channels on control performance. To counter such effects, we propose the idea of encoding information for the purpose of estimation and control prior to transmission. Although information theoretic techniques are not possible in our problem, we are able to solve for a recursive yet optimal encoder / decoder structure in many cases. This information flow design oriented approach has unique advantages such as being optimal for any packet drop pattern, being able to include the effect of known but random delays easily, letting us escape the limits set by reliability for transmission of data across a network by using intermediate nodes as 'repeaters' similar to a digital communication network and so on.

We finally take a look at combining the effects of multiple sources of information and communication channels on estimation and control. We look at a distributed estimation problem in which, at every time step, only a subset out of many sensors can transmit information to the estimator. This is also a representative resource allocation problem. We propose the idea of stochastic communication patterns that allows us to include the effects of communication channels explicitly during system design. Thus, instead of tree-search based algorithms proposed in the literature, we provide stochastic scheduling algorithms that can take into account the random packet drop effect of the channels. We also consider a distributed control problem with switching topologies and solve for the optimal controller. The tools that we develop are applicable to many other scenarios and we demonstrate some of them in the dissertation.

Along the way, we look at many other related problems in the dissertation. As an example, we provide initial results about the issue of robustness of a distributed system design to a malfunctioning agent. This notion is currently lacking in the control and estimation community, but has to be a part of any effective theory for designing networked or distributed systems.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:cooperative; Distributed; estimation; Information flow; Multi-agent system; Networked Control
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Electrical Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Murray, Richard M. (advisor)
  • Hassibi, Babak (advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Murray, Richard M. (chair)
  • Hassibi, Babak
  • Bruck, Jehoshua
  • Schulman, Leonard J.
  • Vaidyanathan, P. P.
Defense Date:20 June 2006
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-08172006-130145
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:3157
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:21 Aug 2006
Last Modified:17 Mar 2020 17:57

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