The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has awarded a $400,000 grant for this year and each of the next two years to Dr. C. Nataraj, Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, to fund the nonlinear analysis and design of smart-valve systems on Navy ships and submarines.
The grant is noteworthy not only because of its size—$1.2 million over three years—but also because of the collaborative nature of the research. Dr. Nataraj, who has been applying modeling and analysis techniques to nonlinear systems for more than 25 years, will be assisted by Dr. William Messner, an expert in control techniques for nonlinear systems. Dr. Messner is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, where he will carry out his work on the project.
The research could not be timelier. One of the Navy’s goals is to achieve advanced levels of automation on its ships. This automation will reduce personnel—and, consequently, costs and casualties—while improving a ship’s capability and survivability. "To increase automation," Dr. Nataraj said, "you need new and sophisticated methods for modeling a ship’s complex systems."
Because engineering systems are nonlinear, the phenomena they exhibit—from bifurcations to chaotic oscillations—cannot be predicted using linear approximations. "If we want to predict reality with any measure of accuracy, we need nonlinear models," Dr. Nataraj said.
During the first year, the researchers will use nonlinear theories to develop high-fidelity dynamic models of actuator-valve systems so that they can predict how those systems will behave. They also will design controllers to work with those models.
Although the project is focused on developing models for actuator-valve systems used in chilled-water systems, the research could lead to models in different areas. According to Dr. Nataraj, "In addition to its importance in its own right, this research has far-reaching implications because the techniques can be applied to a host of other nonlinear systems."