Controllers in a complex monitor and control system are typically organized hierarchically. One or more digital controllers at the lowest level directly control the physical plant. Each output of a higher-level controller is a reference input of one or more lower-level controllers. With few exceptions, one or more of the higher-level controllers interfaces with the operator.
For example, a patient care system may consist of microprocessor-based controllers that monitor and control the patient’s blood pressure, respiration, glucose, and so forth. There may be a higher- level controller (e.g., an expert system) which interacts with the operator (a nurse or doctor) and chooses the desired values of these health indicators. While the computation done by each digital controller is simple and nearly deterministic, the computation of a high level controller is likely to be far more complex and variable. While the period of a low level control-law computation ranges from milliseconds to seconds, the periods of high-level control-law computations may be minutes, even hours.
Figure shows a more complex example: the hierarchy of flight control, avionics, and air traffic control systems. The Air Traffic Control (ATC) system is at the highest level. It regulates the flow of flights to each destination airport. It does so by assigning to each aircraft an arrival time at each metering fix (or waypoint) en route to the destination: The aircraft is supposed to arrive at the metering fix at the assigned arrival time. At any time while in flight, the assigned arrival time to
the next metering fix is a reference input to the on-board flight management system. The flight management system chooses a time-referenced flight path that brings the aircraft to the next metering fix at the assigned arrival time. The cruise speed, turn radius, decent/accent rates, and so forth required to follow the chosen time-referenced flight path are the reference inputs to the flight controller at the lowest level of the control hierarchy.
Guidance and Control
While a digital controller deals with some dynamical behavior of the physical plant, a second level controller typically performs guidance and path planning functions to achieve a higher level goal. In particular, it tries to find one of the most desirable trajectories among all trajectories that meet the constraints of the system. The trajectory is most desirable because it optimizes some cost function(s). The algorithm(s) used for this purpose is the solution(s) of some constrained optimization problem(s).
As an example, we look again at a flight management system. The constraints that must be satisfied by the chosen flight path include the ones imposed by the characteristics of the aircraft, such as the maximum and minimum allowed cruise speeds and decent/accent rates, as well as constraints imposed by external factors, such as the ground track and altitude profile specified by the ATC system and weather conditions. A cost function is fuel consumption: A most desirable flight path is a most fuel efficient among all paths that meet all the constraints and will bring the aircraft to the next metering fix at the assigned arrival time. This problem is known as the constrained fixed- time, minimum-fuel problem. When the flight is late, the flight management system may try to bring the aircraft to the next metering fix in the shortest time. In that case, it will use an algorithm that solves the time-optimal problem.
Real-Time Command and Control
The controller at the highest level of a control hierarchy is a command and control system. The controller at the highest level of a control hierarchy is a command and control system. In contrast to a low-level controller whose workload is either purely or mostly periodic, a command and control system also computes and communicates in response to sporadic events and operators’ commands. It may process image and speech, query and update databases, simulate various scenarios, and the like. The resource and processing time demands of these tasks can be large and varied. Fortunately, most of the timing requirements of a command and control system are less stringent. Whereas a low-level control system typically runs on one computer or a few computers connected by a small network or dedicated links, a command and control system is often a large distributed system containing tens and hundreds of computers and many different kinds of networks. In this respect, it resembles interactive, on-line transaction systems (e.g., a stock price quotation system) which are also sometimes called real-time systems.
The controller at the highest level of a control hierarchy is a command and control system. An Air Traffic Control (ATC) system is an excellent example. Figure 1–5 shows a possible architecture. The ATC system monitors the aircraft in its coverage area and the environment (e.g., weather condition) and generates and presents the information needed by the operators (i.e., the air traffic controllers). Outputs from the ATC system include the assigned arrival times to metering fixes for individual aircraft. As stated earlier, these outputs are reference inputs to on-board flight
management systems. Thus, the ATC system indirectly controls the embedded components in low levels of the control hierarchy. In addition, the ATC system provides voice and telemetry links to on-board avionics. Thus it supports the communication among the operators at both levels (i.e., the pilots and air traffic controllers).
The ATC system gathers information on the “state” of each aircraft via one or more active radars. Such radar interrogates each aircraft periodically. When interrogated, an air-craft responds by sending to the ATC system its “state variables”: identifier, position, altitude, heading, and so on. (In Figure 1–5, these variables are referred to collectively as a track record, and the current trajectory of the aircraft is a track.) The ATC system processes messages from aircraft and stores the state information thus obtained in a database. This information is picked up and processed by display processors. At the same time, a surveillance system continuously analyzes the scenario and alerts the operators whenever it detects any potential hazard (e.g., a possible collision).