Ardentov A. A., Sachkov Yu.L., Maxwell Strata and Cut Locus in the Sub-Riemannian Problem on the Engel Group, Regular and Chaotic Dynamics, 2017, vol. 22, no. 8, pp. 909-936
We consider the nilpotent left-invariant sub-Riemannian structure on the Engel group. This structure gives a fundamental local approximation of a generic rank 2 sub-Riemannian structure on a 4-manifold near a generic point (in particular, of the kinematic models of a car with a trailer). On the other hand, this is the simplest sub-Riemannian structure of step three. We describe the global structure of the cut locus (the set of points where geodesics lose their global optimality), the Maxwell set (the set of points that admit more than one minimizer), and the intersection of the cut locus with the caustic (the set of conjugate points along all geodesics). The group of symmetries of the cut locus is described: it is generated by a one-parameter group of dilations and a discrete group of reflections. The cut locus admits a stratification with 6 three-dimensional strata, 12 two-dimensional strata, and 2 one-dimensional strata. Three-dimensional strata of the cut locus are Maxwell strata of multiplicity 2 (for each point there are 2 minimizers). Two-dimensional strata of the cut locus consist of conjugate points. Finally, one-dimensional strata are Maxwell strata of infinite multiplicity, they consist of conjugate points as well. Projections of sub-Riemannian geodesics to the 2-dimensional plane of the distribution are Euler elasticae. For each point of the cut locus, we describe the Euler elasticae corresponding to minimizers coming to this point. Finally, we describe the structure of the optimal synthesis, i. e., the set of minimizers for each terminal point in the Engel group.