Prof. Woolsey Presents Energy‐Based Control of Ocean and Atmospheric Vehicles

Craig Woolsey Header ImageBio: Craig Woolsey is a Professor in Virginia Tech’s Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering (AOE). The principal aim of Prof. Woolsey’s research is to improve performance and robustness of autonomous vehicles, particularly ocean and atmospheric vehicles. The theoretical focus is nonlinear control, particularly energy‐based methods for mechanical control systems. Woolsey is a past recipient of the NSF Career Award and the ONR Young Investigator Program Award, and he recently served on the National Academies Committee to Assess the Risks of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration. Woolsey is an active member (and vice president‐elect) of the AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Technical Committee and the IFAC Technical Committee on Marine Systems. He currently serves as President of the AUVSI Ridge & Valley Chapter in southwest Virginia. Prof. Woolsey teaches courses in ocean and atmospheric vehicle dynamics and in linear and nonlinear control. Woolsey is affiliated with the Nonlinear Systems Laboratory 2 ( and the Virginia Tech site within the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (, an NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center.

Abstract: Model‐based control design for ocean and atmospheric vehicles typically starts with a linear approximation of the system dynamics. And for good reason. A control system based on a linearized dynamic model outperforms alternatives when the linear model is accurate ‐‐ that is, for small perturbations from a nominal state. Control system performance degrades with the approximation, however. In scenarios where the small perturbation model is inappropriate, one must consider nonlinear modeling and control. Examples from the speaker’s experience include a small surface craft tracking a desired trajectory with variable speed and course, a submerged vessel maneuvering near the surface in waves, biomimetic vehicles that vary their shape for propulsion and control in water or in air, and a fixed-wing aircraft that maneuvers aggressively through the atmosphere. In considering these examples, a unifying theme will emerge: using the (nonlinear) mechanical system structure of the governing equations to obtain provably effective control strategies.

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