Electricity in the Air – Rapid, Inexpensive, and Dynamically-Scalable Flight Characterization and Control System Prototyping for Airborne Wind Energy Systems

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School of Physics Nonlinear Science & Mathematical Physics: Prof. Chris Vermillion, Univeristy of North Carolina at Charlotte

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. However, the dynamic modeling and control design for these tethered systems is far from optimized, and full-scale experimental prototyping costs act as a bottleneck to AWE systems’ widespread adoption. In response to these challenges, we have developed a first-in-world 1/100-scale platform for characterizing the flight dynamics and closed-loop control of AWE systems. This seminar will show how this 1/100-scale platform, which utilizes a water channel as its flow medium, replicates the dynamic characteristics of the full-scale system under appropriate model and controller scaling laws. The presentation will examine how the water channel platform has been used for the rapid characterization of a multitude of stationary AWE system designs, along with control design for AWE systems that augment their power production by flying in periodic crosswind motions. Biography - 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 worked on 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.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Alison Morain
  • Created: 06/14/2017
  • Modified By: Shaun Ashley
  • Modified: 08/10/2017