Active Fault-Tolerance in Wireless Networked Control Systems

In a Wireless Networked Control System (WNCS), several nodes or components of the system may communicate over the common network that connects them together. Thus, there may be communication taking place between the sensors and the controller nodes, among the controllers themselves, among the sensors themselves, among the actuator themselves, and between the controller and the actuator nodes. The purpose of this communication is to improve the performance of the control system. The performance may be a measurable quantity defined in terms of a performance criterion, as in the case of optimal control or estimation, or it may be a qualitative measure described as a desired behaviour.
Each node of the WNCS may act as a decision maker, making control as well as communication decisions. The presence of a network brings in constraints in the design of the control system, as information between the various decision makers must be exchanged according to the rules and dynamics of the network. Our goal is to quantify some of these constraints, and design the control system together with the communication system so as both do their best given the constraints. This work in no way attempts to suggest the best way to design a communication network that suits the needs of a particular control system, but some of the results obtained here may be used in conjunction with other results in forming an understanding as to how to proceed in the design of such systems in the future.

The work proposes a novel real-time communication protocol based on the Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) strategy, which has built-in tolerance against the network-induced effects like lost packets, assuring a highly deterministic and reliable behaviour of the overall networked control system, thus allowing the use of classical control design methods with WNCS. Determinism in the transmission times, for sending and for receiving, is assured by a communication schedule that is dynamically updated based on the conditions of the network and the propagation environment.
An advanced experimentation platform has been developed, called WiNC, which demonstrates the efficiency of the protocol with two well-known laboratory benchmarks that have very different dynamics, namely the three-tank system and the inverted pendulum system. Wireless nodes belonging to both systems are coordinated and synchronized by a master node, namely the controller node.
The WiNC platform uses only open source software and general-purpose (commercial, off-the shelf) hardware, thus making it with a minimal investment (low cost) a flexible and easily extendable research platform for WNCS. And considering the general trend towards the adoption of Linux as a real-time operating system for embedded system in automation, the developed concepts and algorithms can be ported with minimum effort to the industrial embedded devices which already run Linux.


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