Functional observability and target state estimation in large-scale networks

Arthur N. Montanari*, Chao Duan, Luis A. Aguirre, Adilson E. Motter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The quantitative understanding and precise control of complex dynamical systems can only be achieved by observing their internal states via measurement and/or estimation. In large-scale dynamical networks, it is often difficult or physically impossible to have enough sensor nodes to make the system fully observable. Even if the system is in principle observable, high dimensionality poses fundamental limits on the computational tractability and performance of a full-state observer. To overcome the curse of dimensionality, we instead require the system to be functionally observable, meaning that a targeted subset of state variables can be reconstructed from the available measurements. Here, we develop a graph-based theory of functional observability, which leads to highly scalable algorithms to 1) determine the minimal set of required sensors and 2) design the corresponding state observer of minimum order. Compared with the full-state observer, the proposed functional observer achieves the same estimation quality with substantially less sensing and fewer computational resources, making it suitable for large-scale networks. We apply the proposed methods to the detection of cyberattacks in power grids from limited phase measurement data and the inference of the prevalence rate of infection during an epidemic under limited testing conditions. The applications demonstrate that the functional observer can significantly scale up our ability to explore otherwise inaccessible dynamical processes on complex networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2113750119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 4 2022


  • Complex networks
  • Network control
  • Network dynamics
  • Observability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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