top of page

Understanding Sliding Mode Control: A Simplified Approach with Real Life Examples

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

Let's imagine this: you're driving on an icy road, and whoops! Your car begins to slide. It's a bit scary, right? But what do you do? You instinctively turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction to prevent the car from spinning out of control. Now, this clever technique you just pulled is something called Sliding Mode Control (SMC) in the world of control systems. Yep, you read it right.

Sliding Mode Control (SMC) - What on Earth Is That?

Here's a simple way to understand SMC. It's kind of like a virtual superhero for control systems. SMC steps in when the system starts to 'slide' or 'skid', maintaining balance, and keeping things under control. It does this by changing the system's dynamics using a 'jumpy' control signal that can flip between two states.


To make this even simpler, let's consider your car with its cruise control turned on. Say you've set your speed at 65 mph and are enjoying the ride. Suddenly, a strong headwind hits. Your car slows down, but the cruise control, being the mini superhero it is, pushes the gas pedal harder to maintain that 65 mph. In this situation, the 'sliding surface' is your desired speed of 65 mph. The system 'slides' along this surface when something like a headwind tries to shake things up.

And for those of you who love a little bit of math (don't worry, we'll keep it simple), here's how we express the SMC. It is designed to bring the system state to the sliding surface defined by this neat little equation:

S(x) = 0

In this equation, S(x) is the function of the system state x.

Sliding Mode Control in Action

Alright, let's see how our superhero, SMC, works in action:

Firstly, it uses the 'reaching law' to help the system 'reach' the sliding surface. Once the system hits the surface, a 'sliding law' takes over and makes sure the system doesn't slip off. These control laws make sure that the system state gets to the sliding surface and stays there.

In simple math terms, the control laws look something like this:

  1. Reaching law: u = -k * sign(S(x))

  2. Sliding law: u = -k * S(x)

Here, u is the control input, k is a positive gain, S(x) is our friend the sliding surface, and 'sign' is just a mathematical function giving the sign of S(x).

Where Does SMC Come in Handy?

Sliding Mode Control is like a Swiss Army knife - it's useful in a bunch of situations. From robotics to electrical drives, to even keeping aircraft flying smoothly, it's got a wide range of applications.


Robotics Consider a robotic arm that you want to move along a specific path, maybe to pick up a glass of water. Here, SMC can be used to guide the arm along the desired path. The sliding surface is the path, and the SMC ensures the robot arm 'slides' along it, just like ice skates gliding over ice.

Electrical Drives

If you've got an electric motor and you want to control its speed, you can call upon SMC for help. The sliding surface here is the speed you want, and the SMC makes sure the motor speed 'slides' along that.

Aircraft Control Systems

Aircraft Control Systems Airplanes need to maintain their altitude or speed accurately,and here's where our superhero SMC steps in again. The sliding surface is the airplane's desired altitude or speed, and the SMC fine-tunes the plane's control surfaces (like the ailerons and elevators) to maintain this. Cool, right?

Sliding Mode Control - Not So Perfect After All? Now, every superhero has its weaknesses, and our SMC is no exception. It's got a few limitations we should chat about:

Chattering Imagine you're trying to balance on a tightrope. You'd likely be wobbling back and forth a lot, right? That's kind of what happens in a system with SMC sometimes. The control input keeps oscillating or 'chattering' around the sliding surface, and that can lead to some unwanted wear and tear. It's like how your car tires would wear out faster if you were constantly skidding.

Model Uncertainty SMC relies a lot on a mathematical model of the system it's controlling. Now, if that model is not accurate or if something about the system changes over time (like a plane getting lighter as it burns fuel), then SMC might start to fumble a bit.

Nonlinearities and Time Delays Here's another Achilles' heel for SMC. It has a tough time dealing with situations where the output isn't directly proportional to the input (nonlinearities) and where there's a delay between the control input and the system's response (time delays). Think of it like trying to steer a boat; when you turn the rudder, the boat doesn't change direction instantly, it takes a bit of time.

Even with these limitations, though, Sliding Mode Control is still a pretty powerful tool. In the hands of a skilled engineer, it can work wonders, making systems behave just the way we want them to. So, the next time you're enjoying a smooth ride in a car, remember our control systems superhero, SMC, could be working behind the scenes, ensuring your ride is as smooth as silk.

Cite this article as:

Kumar, Yajur. “Understanding Sliding Mode Control: A Simplified Approach with Real Life Examples.” Space Navigators, 28 May 2023,


bottom of page