I am working not only with Jeff Schneider on learning control of unstable plants, aiming at open-loop or low-bandwidth control, but also I'm on the committee of Natarajan ("Nutty") Venkataraman, a Mechanical Engineering student of my long-time running buddy Roger Gans. Likewise Roger is on Jeff's committee. Nutty is looking at the modeling and ultimately control of elastica, or very flexible beams. Practically speaking, rigid plants are heavy and expensive, but light (thus probably flexible) ones need smarter control. The normal approach to non-rigid plants is to damp out their vibratory modes, but for very flexible plants (e.g. fishing rods) that's the wrong approach.
The ultimate hope is that Nutty's models can help Jeff's control and that Jeff's control can supplement Nutty's more traditional approach, AND that we might build some hardware to investigate these things that would pass muster in a ME or a CS context. We already have a flexible beam that Jeff has used for ball-throwing, and Jeff is constructing a novel sort of inverted pendulum as well. Roger and I are working on an NSF proposal in this area, and there are several theses in the topic yet!
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