Sliding mode control is a robust nonlinear control algorithm that has been used to implement tracking controllers for unmanned aircraft systems that are robust to modeling uncertainty and exogenous disturbances, thereby providing excellent performance for autonomous operation. A significant advance in the application of sliding mode control for unmanned aircraft systems would be adaptation of a model-free sliding mode control algorithm, since the most complex and time-consuming aspect of implementation of sliding mode control is the derivation of the control law with incorporation of the system model, a process required to be performed for each individual application of sliding mode control. The performance of four different model-free sliding mode control algorithms was compared in simulation using a variety of aerial system models and real-world disturbances (e.g. the effects of discretization and state estimation). The two best performing algorithms were shown to exhibit very similar behavior. These two algorithms were implemented on a quadrotor (both in simulation and using real-world hardware) and the performance was compared to a traditional PID-based controller using the same state estimation algorithm and control setup. Simulation results show the model-free sliding mode control algorithms exhibit similar performance to PID controllers without the tedious tuning process. Comparison between the two model-free sliding mode control algorithms showed very similar performance as measured by the quadratic means of tracking errors. Flight testing showed that while a model-free sliding mode control algorithm is capable of controlling realworld hardware, further characterization and significant improvements are required before it is a viable alternative to conventional control algorithms. Large tracking errors were observed for both the model-free sliding mode control and PID based flight controllers and the performance was characterized as unacceptable for most applications. The poor performance of both controllers suggests tracking errors could be attributed to errors in state estimation, which effectively introduce unknown dynamics into the feedback loop. Further testing with improved state estimation would allow for more conclusions to be drawn about the performance characteristics of the model-free sliding mode control algorithms.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Quadrotor helicopters--Automatic control; Drone aircraft--Automatic control; Sliding mode control

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Mechanical Engineering (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Mechanical Engineering (KGCOE)


Agamemnon Crassidis

Advisor/Committee Member

Juan C. Cockburn

Advisor/Committee Member

Jason Kolodziej


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes