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Feed-forward is a term describing an element or pathway within a control system which passes a controlling signal from a source in its external environment, often a command signal from an external operator, to a load elsewhere in its external environment. A control system which has only feed-forward behavior responds to its control signal in a pre-defined way without responding to how the load reacts; it is in contrast with a system that also has feedback, which adjusts the output to take account of how it affects the load, and how the load itself may vary unpredictably; the load is considered to belong to the external environment of the system.

Some prerequisites are needed for control scheme to be reliable by pure feed-forward without feedback: the external command or controlling signal must be available, and the effect of the output of the system on the load should be known (that usually means that the load must be predictably unchanging with time). Sometimes pure feed-forward control without feedback is called 'ballistic', because once a control signal has been sent, it cannot be further adjusted; any corrective adjustment must be by way of a new control signal. In contrast 'cruise control' adjusts the output in response to the load that it encounters, by a feedback mechanism.

These systems could be in control theory, physiology or computing.

Overview Edit

With feed-forward control, the disturbances are measured and accounted for before they have time to affect the system. In the house example, a feed-forward system may measure the fact that the door is opened and automatically turn on the heater before the house can get too cold. The difficulty with feed-forward control is that the effect of the disturbances on the system must be accurately predicted, and there must not be any unmeasured disturbances. For instance, if a window was opened that was not being measured, the feed-forward-controlled thermostat might still let the house cool down.

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There are three types of control systems: open loop, feed-forward, and feedback. An example of a pure open loop control system is manual non-power-assisted steering of a motor car; the steering system does not have access to an auxiliary power source and does not respond to varying resistance to turning of the direction wheels; the driver must make that response without help from the steering system. In comparison, power steering has access to a controlled auxiliary power source, which depends on the engine speed. When the steering wheel is turned, a valve is opened which allows fluid under pressure to turn the driving wheels. A sensor monitors that pressure so that the valve only opens enough to cause the correct pressure to reach the wheel turning mechanism. This is feed-forward control where the output of the system, the change in direction of travel of the vehicle, plays no part in the system. See Model predictive control.

If you include the driver in the system, then he does provide a feedback path by observing the direction of travel and compensating for errors by turning the steering wheel. In that case you have a feedback system, and the block labeled "System" in Figure(c) is a feed-forward system.

In other words, systems of different types can be nested, and the overall system regarded as a black-box.

Applications Edit

Physiological feed-forward systemEdit

In physiology, feed-forward control is exemplified by the normal anticipatory regulation of heartbeat in advance of actual physical exertion. Feed-forward control can be likened to learned anticipatory responses to known cues. Feedback regulation of the heartbeat provides further adaptiveness to the running eventualities of physical exertion.

A pure feed-forward system is distinct from a homeostatic control system, which has the function of keeping the internal environment of the body steady or constant or in a prolonged steady state of readiness, and relies mainly on feedback, indeed on negative feedback, in addition to the feedforward elements of the system.

Gene regulation and feed-forwardEdit

The cross regulation of genes can be represented by a graph, where genes are the nodes and one node is linked to another if the former is a transcription factor for the latter. A motif which predominantly appears in all known networks (E. coli, Yeast,...) is A activates B, A and B activate C. This motif has been shown to be a feed forward system, detecting non-temporary change of environment. This feed forward control theme is commonly observed in hematopoietic cell lineage development, where irreversible commitments are made.

Feed-forward systems in computingEdit

Main article: Perceptron

In computing, feed-forward normally refers to a perceptron network in which the outputs from all neurons go to following but not preceding layers, so there are no feedback loops. The connections are set up during a training phase, which in effect is when the system is a feedback system.

Long distance telephonyEdit

In the early 1970s, intercity coaxial transmission systems, including L-carrier, used feed-forward amplifiers to diminish linear distortion. This more complex method allowed wider bandwidth than earlier feedback systems. Optical fiber, however, made such systems obsolete before many were built.

Automation and Machine ControlEdit

Feedforward control is a discipline within the field of automatic controls used in automation.

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • S. Mangan A. Zaslaver & U. Alon, "The coherent feed-forward loop serves as a sign-sensitive delay element in transcription networks", J. Molecular Biology 334:197-204 (2003).
  • Foss, S., Foss, K., & Trapp. (2002). Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric (3rd ed.). Waveland Press, Inc.

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