A dynamic team
Esteemed electrical engineer Laureate Professor Graham Goodwin and his research group are masters of control.
Complex systems are central to the way we live. They control energy generation and distribution, safety and security systems, telecommunications, transport, manufacturing processes and many things a contemporary community needs to function.
The Centre for Dynamic Systems and Control is an internationally recognised research group that brings together more than 100 staff and students. It is at the forefront of developing optimisation and signal processing techniques that improve the performance of industrial processes.
Since its establishment in 2003, the centre has given life to a host of fundamental research achievements and forged significant industry collaborations around the world.
Some of its high-profile projects have included: devising signal processing techniques and software for electromagnetic mineral exploration for BHP Billiton; developing a roll stabilisation system used in Australian Customs vessels; improving the efficiency of mobile broadband telecommunications; and cutting-edge work in computer storage for IBM Zurich.
Centre director Laureate Professor Graham Goodwin says the centre is rated among the top control and automation research groups in the world, with research projects across Asia, North and South America, Europe, the UK and Scandinavia. Its researchers are highly cited and have achieved more than 1,000 publications in the past seven years.
His own reputation is as esteemed as any in the field. The unassuming Professor in Electrical Engineering, who has been at the University for 37 years, has been honoured with the highest professional awards. In the past 18 months alone he has received the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Control Systems Field Award (the top award in this field in the world), the 2010 Nordic Process Control Award and the 2011 Asian Control Education Award.
The centre is a multidisciplinary environment, which has fostered highly productive collaborations between researchers from diverse fields, including electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, mathematics and statistics. Projects run the gamut from pure research to applied.
While the scope of research undertaken in the centre is wide, Goodwin says telecommunications provides a good case study, illustrating the complex concepts of control in a scenario most people can comprehend.
He is working with the Swedish company Ericsson AB, under an Australian Research Council Linkage Project, to improve the performance of the mobile broadband system, a growing imperative with more than four billion mobile phones worldwide and nearly 300 billion emails sent each day.
Mobile phone networks consist of adjoining cells, each with a radius of several kilometres.
"In a given cell at any time there might be between 10 and 100 people with phones or computers trying to send data and make calls. If you let them all go at once it would be a babble, and nothing would get through," Professor Goodwin explains.
"The system has a scheduler that determines which of the users can send data at any one time. The optimisation problem we are working on is how to maximise the amount of data that is transmitted but still ensure that the system is equitable – you can't allow one person to miss out because they are sitting on the outskirts of the cell."
In most cases, users of the system are unaware that this priority allocation is taking place because delays are splitsecond. Where it becomes obvious is when the system is not working efficiently – such as when a user unsuccessfully attempts to send a large data file.
"If the system is overcrowded, it becomes inefficient to the point where things don't go through at all," Goodwin says. "So we are developing an improved system that will prevent a collapse and better regulate the flow of data."
Goodwin and his team have been working with Ericsson AB for three years on the project, researching algorithmic optimisation to be used in software that improves the efficiency of the control system.
It is typical, he says, of the big-picture research that has enhanced the reputation of the centre, and the University, around the world.
"We have many large, internationally visible projects that are of global importance, which is what makes our research centre stand out," Goodwin says.