01764nas a2200097 4500008004300000245008100043210006900124520141900193100001801612856003601630 2006 en_Ud 00aOn variational approach to differential invariants of rank two distributions0 avariational approach to differential invariants of rank two dist3 an the present paper we construct differential invariants for generic rank 2 vector distributions on n-dimensional manifold. In the case n=5 (the first case containing functional parameters) E. Cartan found in 1910 the covariant fourth-order tensor invariant for such distributions, using his \\\"reduction-prolongation\\\" procedure. After Cartan\\\'s work the following questions remained open: first the geometric reason for existence of Cartan\\\'s tensor was not clear; secondly it was not clear how to generalize this tensor to other classes of distributions; finally there were no explicit formulas for computation of Cartan\\\'s tensor. Our paper is the first in the series of papers, where we develop an alternative approach, which gives the answers to the questions mentioned above. It is based on the investigation of dynamics of the field of so-called abnormal extremals (singular curves) of rank 2 distribution and on the general theory of unparametrized curves in the Lagrange Grassmannian, developed in our previous works with A. Agrachev . In this way we construct the fundamental form and the projective Ricci curvature of rank 2 vector distributions for arbitrary n greater than 4.\\nFor n=5 we give an explicit method for computation of these invariants and demonstrate it on several examples. In our next paper we show that in the case n=5 our fundamental form coincides with Cartan\\\'s tensor.1 aZelenko, Igor uhttp://hdl.handle.net/1963/2188