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3.2 Calculus of variations versus optimal control

Problems in calculus of variations that we have treated so far are concerned with minimizing a cost functional of the form $ J(y)=\int_a^b L(x,y(x),y'(x))dx$ over a given family of curves $ y(\cdot)$ --such as, e.g., all $ \mathcal C^1$ curves with fixed endpoints. Optimal control theory studies similar problems but from a more dynamic viewpoint, which can be explained as follows. Rather than regarding the curves as given a priori, let us imagine a particle moving in the $ (x,y)$ -space and ``drawing a trace" of its motion. The choice of the slope $ y'(x)$ at each point on the curve can be thought of as an infinitesimal decision, or control. The resulting curve is thus a trajectory of a simple control system, which we can write as $ y'=u$ . In order for this curve to minimize the overall integral cost, optimal control decisions must be taken everywhere along the curve; this is simply a restatement of a principle that we have already discussed several times in Chapter 2 (see, in particular, pages [*] and [*]).

In realistic scenarios, not all velocities may be feasible everywhere. In calculus of variations, constraints on available velocities may be modeled as equalities of the form $ M(x,y(x),y'(x))=0$ . We already know from Section 2.5.2 that if we solve such a constraint for $ y'$ and parameterize the solution in terms of free variables $ u$ , we arrive at a control system $ y'=f(x,y,u)
$ . This dynamic description is consistent with the idea of moving along the curve (and incurring a cost along the way).

The set in which the controls $ u$ take values might also be constrained by some practical considerations, such as inherent bounds on physical quantities (velocities, forces, and so on). In the optimal control formulation, such constraints are incorporated very naturally by working with an appropriate control set. In calculus of variations, on the other hand, they would make the description of the space of admissible curves quite cumbersome.

Finally, once we adopt the dynamic viewpoint of a moving particle, it is natural to consider another transformation which we already encountered in Section 2.4.3. Namely, it makes sense to parameterize the curves by time rather than by the spatial variable $ x$ . Besides being more intuitive, this new formulation is also more descriptive because it allows us to distinguish between two geometrically identical curves traversed with different speeds. In addition, the curves no longer need to be graphs of single-valued functions of $ x$ .

% latex2html id marker 8841
[Brachistochrone revisited]
The brac...
... cost functional to the right-hand side of the control system.

From this point onward, we will start using $ t$ as the independent variable. We will write $ x=(x_1,\dots,x_n)^T$ for the (dependent) state variables, $ \dot x=
(\dot x_1,\dots,\dot x_n)^T$ for their time derivatives, and $ u=(u_1,\dots,u_m)^T$ for the controls. The controls will take values in some control set, such as the unit circle in the above example. Of course, the simplicity of the Lagrangian in (3.17) is due to the fact that the cost being minimized is the time (this is a time-optimal control problem); in general, both the control system and the cost functional may be complex.

next up previous contents index
Next: 3.3 Optimal control problem Up: 3. From Calculus of Previous: 3.1.2 Weierstrass excess function   Contents   Index
Daniel 2010-12-20