En Route for the Calculus of Variations

Jan Coufal, Jiří Tobíšek


Optimal control deals with the problem of finding a control law for a given system such that a certain optimality criterion is achieved. An optimal control is an extension of the calculus of variations. It is a mathematical optimization method for deriving control policies. The calculus of variations is concerned with the extrema of functionals. The different approaches tried out in its solution may be considered, in a more or less direct way, as the starting point for new theories. While the true “mathematical” demonstration involves what we now call the calculus of variations, a theory for which Euler and then Lagrange established the foundations, the solution which Johann Bernoulli originally produced, obtained with the help analogy with the law of refraction on optics, was empirical. A similar analogy between optics and mechanics reappears when Hamilton applied the principle of least action in mechanics which Maupertuis justified in the first instance, on the basis of the laws of optics.


Calculus of variations, Johann Bernoulli, Jacob Bernoulli, Euler, Lagrange, Maupertuis, principle of least action

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.23755/rm.v36i1.467


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Ratio Mathematica - Journal of Mathematics, Statistics, and Applications. ISSN 1592-7415; e-ISSN 2282-8214.