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Tradeoff Between Performance and Robustness

When the plant modeling uncertainty is not too big, you can design high-gain, high-performance feedback controllers. High loop gains significantly larger than 1 in magnitude can attenuate the effects of plant model uncertainty and reduce the overall sensitivity of the system to plant noise. But if your plant model uncertainty is so large that you do not even know the sign of your plant gain, then you cannot use large feedback gains without the risk that the system will become unstable. Thus, plant model uncertainty can be a fundamental limiting factor in determining what can be achieved with feedback.

Multiplicative Uncertainty:

Given an approximate model of the plant G0 of a plant G, the multiplicative uncertainty ΔM of the model G0 is defined as ΔM=G01(GG0)

or, equivalently,


Plant model uncertainty arises from many sources. There might be small unmodeled time delays or stray electrical capacitance. Imprecisely understood actuator time constants or, in mechanical systems, high-frequency torsional bending modes and similar effects can be responsible for plant model uncertainty. These types of uncertainty are relatively small at lower frequencies and typically increase at higher frequencies.

In the case of single-input/single-output (SISO) plants, the frequency at which there are uncertain variations in your plant of size |ΔM|=2 marks a critical threshold beyond which there is insufficient information about the plant to reliably design a feedback controller. With such a 200% model uncertainty, the model provides no indication of the phase angle of the true plant, which means that the only way you can reliably stabilize your plant is to ensure that the loop gain is less than 1. Allowing for an additional factor of 2 margin for error, your control system bandwidth is essentially limited to the frequency range over which your multiplicative plant uncertainty ΔM has gain magnitude |ΔM|<1.

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