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SEMINAR – Electricity in the Air: Lab-Scale Flight Characterization and Optimal Control Strategies for Airborne Wind Energy Systems

February 27 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am

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Dr. Vermillon


Airborne wind energy (AWE) systems, which replace conventional towers with tethers and lifting bodies, have the potential to unlock vast amounts of untapped energy at altitudes unreachable by towers. The AWE community has made great strides since the publication of initial seminal papers in the 1980s, moving from paper to prototype as dozens of organizations have deployed systems in the field over the past several years. Nevertheless, two very important dynamics and control-related challenges remain: (i) efficiently and inexpensively evaluating the closed-loop system dynamics over a large design space, and (ii) optimally controlling AWE systems to maximize energy capture. With regard to the first challenge, this seminar will describe the development of the first closed-loop, lab-scale, water channel-based experimental platform for characterizing the flight dynamics and control of AWE systems. We will show how this platform replicates the closed-loop characteristics of the full-scale system while dramatically reducing prototyping costs, and we will illustrate a progression of accomplishments in the water channel that range from simple open-loop dynamic characterization to power-augmenting closed-loop crosswind flight. With regard to the second challenge, this seminar will highlight two control strategies aimed at optimizing energy capture: an economic iterative learning strategy for optimizing repetitive crosswind motions and a hierarchical strategy for optimizing the operating altitude of AWE systems in a spatiotemporally varying, partially observable environment.


Chris Vermillion received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2009 and received his undergraduate degrees in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2004. Immediately following his Ph.D. work, Dr. Vermillion performed research in the area of advanced automotive powertrain control, focusing on constrained optimal control approaches that simultaneously addressed the competing performance interests of fuel economy, emissions, drivability, and torque delivery. Subsequently he served as a Lead Engineer for Altaeros Energies and managed all of the dynamic modeling, control system design, software development, and embedded hardware development for Altaeros’ lighter-than-air wind energy system. Dr. Vermillion has participated in the full-scale fight testing of two of Altaeros’ designs. Dr. Vermillion is currently an Assistant Professor at UNC-Charlotte, where his research focuses on the dynamic characterization, design optimization, and optimal control of airborne wind energy systems, marine hydrokinetic energy systems, and energy-efficient connected and autonomous vehicles. Dr. Vermillion was the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award in 2015, the UNC-Charlotte College of Engineering John H. Maxheim Faculty Research Fellowship in 2016, and the College of Engineering Excellence in Teaching Award in 2017.


February 27
10:00 am - 11:00 am
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EB3 3122