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The paper suggests an approach to the optimal design of original Takagi-Sugeno PI-fuzzy controllers (PI-FCs) applied in ship course control. The optimization is done in terms of the Iterative Feedback Tuning algorithms making use of new gradient experiments. Signal processing aspects are discussed with this regard to enable the implementation of low-cost fuzzy controllers. One case study concerning the optimal design of a PI-FC for a servo system position control application is included to validate the theoretical approaches. The real-time experimental results show the performance improvement with respect to a classical control solution.