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The discussion of properties of systems will be a bit tentative at this point, in part because

the notion of a system is so general that it is difficult to include all the details, and in part

because the mathematical description of a system might presume certain properties of

allowable input signals. For example, the input signal to a running-integrator system must

be sufficiently well behaved that the integral is defined. We can be considerably more

precise when we consider specific classes of systems that admit particular types of

mathematical descriptions. In the interim the intent is mainly to establish some intuition

concerning properties of systems in general.

• Causal System A system is causal if the output signal value at any time t depends

only on input signal values for times no larger than t. Examples of causal systems are

t

y (t ) = 3 x(t − 2), y (t ) = ∫ x(τ ) dτ , y (t ) = x3 (t )

−∞

Examples of systems that are not causal are

t +1

y (t ) = x(2), y (t ) = 3 x(t + 2), y (t ) = ∫ x(τ ) dτ

−∞

depends only on the input signal value at that same time, t. A memoryless system is

causal, though the reverse is untrue. Examples of memoryless systems are

y (t ) = 2 x(t ), y (t ) = x 2 (t ), y (t ) = te x (t )

• Time-Invariant System A system is time invariant if for every input signal x(t)

and corresponding output signal y(t) the following property holds. Given any constant,

to , the input signal x (t ) = x (t − to ) yields the output signal y (t ) = y (t − to ) . This is

sometimes called “shift invariance,” since any time shift of an input signal results in the

exact same shift of the output signal. Examples of time-invariant systems are

t

y (t ) = sin( x(t )), y (t ) = ∫ x(τ ) dτ , y (t ) = 3 x(t − 2)

−∞

Examples of systems that are not time invariant are

t

y (t ) = sin(t ) x(t ), y (t ) = ∫ τ x(τ ) dτ

−∞

To check if a system is time invariant requires application of the defining condition. For

example, for

t

y (t ) = ∫ τ x(τ ) dτ

−∞

we consider the input signal x (t ) = x(t − to ) , where to is any constant. The corresponding

response computation begins with

t t

y (t ) = ∫ τ x (τ ) dτ = ∫ τ x(τ − to ) dτ

−∞ −∞

To compare this to y (t − to ) , it is convenient to change the variable of integration to

σ = τ − to . This gives

t − to

y (t ) = ∫ (σ + to ) x(σ ) dσ

−∞

which is not the same as

t − to

y (t − to ) = ∫ τ x(τ ) dτ

−∞

Therefore the system is not time invariant.

with corresponding output signals y1 (t ), y2 (t ) , the following holds. For every constant b,

the response to the input signal x(t ) = bx1 (t ) + x2 (t ) is y (t ) = by1 (t ) + y2 (t ) . (This is more

concise than popular two-part definitions of linearity in the literature. Taking b = 1 yields

the additivity requirement that the response to x(t ) = x1 (t ) + x2 (t ) be y (t ) = y1 (t ) + y2 (t ) .

And taking x2 (t ) = x1 (t ) gives the homogeniety requirement that the response to

x(t ) = (b + 1) x1 (t ) should be y (t ) = (b + 1) y1 (t ) for any constant b. Examples of linear

systems are

t

y (t ) = et x(t ), y (t ) = 3x(t − 2), y (t ) = ∫ x(τ ) dτ

−∞

Examples of systems that are “nonlinear” are

t

y (t ) = ∫ x 2 (σ ) dσ , y (t ) = 1 + x(t ), y (t ) = cos( x(t ))

−∞

Remark It should be noted that for a linear system the response to the zero input is the

zero output signal. To see this, simply take x1 (t ) = x2 (t ) (so that y1 (t ) = y2 (t ) ) and

b = −1 in the definition of linearity.

system is stable (or bounded-input, bounded-output stable) if every bounded input signal

yields a bounded output signal. In detail, for any input signal x(t) such that |x(t)| < M for

all t, where M is a constant, there is aother constant P such that the corresponding output

signal satisfies |y(t)| < P for all t. Examples of stable systems are

x(t − 2)

y (t ) = e x (t ) , y (t ) = , y (t ) = sin(t ) x(t )

t2 +1

Examples of “unstable” systems are

t

y (t ) = et x(t ), y (t ) = ∫ x(τ ) dτ

−∞

• Invertible System A system is invertible if the input signal can be uniquely

determined from knowledge of the output signal. Examples of invertible systems are

y (t ) = x3 (t ), y (t ) = 3x(t − 2) + 4t

The thoughtful reader will be justifiably nervous about this definition. Invertibility of a

mathematical operation requires two features: the operation must be one-to-one and also

onto. Since we have not established a class of input signals that we consider for systems,

or a corresponding class of output signals, the issue of “onto” is left vague. And since we

have decided to ignore or reassign values of a signal at isolated points in time for reasons

of simplicity or convenience, even the issue of “one-to-one” is unsettled.

Determining invertibility of a given system can be quite difficult. Perhaps the easiest

situation is showing that a system is not invertible by exhibiting two legitimately

different input signals that yield the same output signal. For example, y (t ) = x 2 (t ) is not

invertible because constant input signals of x(t ) = 1 and x(t ) = −1 , for all t, yield

identical output signals. As another example, the system

d

y (t ) = x(t )

dt

is not invertible since x (t ) = 1 + x(t ) yields the same output signal as x(t). As a final

example, in a benign setting the running-integrator system

t

y (t ) = ∫ x(τ ) dτ

−∞

is invertible by the fundamental theorem of calculus:

d t

∫ x(τ ) dτ = x(t )

dt −∞

But the fact remains that technicalities are required for this conclusion. If two input

signals differ only at isolated points in time, the output signals will be identical, and thus

the system is not invertible if we consider such input signals to be legitimately different.

All of these properties translate easily to discrete-time systems. Little more is required

than to replace parentheses by square brackets and t by n. But regardless of the time

domain, it is important to note that these are input-output properties of systems. In

particular, nothing is being stated about the internal workings of the system, everything is

stated in terms of input signals and corresponding output signals.

Finally it is worthwhile to think of how you would ascertain whether a given physical

system, for which you do not have a mathematical description, has each of the properties

we consider. That is, what input signals would you apply, what measurements of the

response would you take, and what use you would make of these measurements. The

demonstration linked below contains a selection of unknown systems and provides a test

bed for input-output experiments to check for system properties.

System Properties

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