PhD Position Autonomous Planning on Task Execution for Robots Operating in the Real, Open World – Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) – Delft

  • Delft

Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

You will work within the OpenBots laboratory creating autonomous robots that operate in the real world with various other PhDs and engineers. The OpenBots laboratory aims to develop a common sense capability for robots making them able to understand their surroundings and plan proper actions to execute their inspection task, even when part of their surrounding world is unknown and dynamic. The inspection task deals with a robot walking around a perimeter and, meanwhile, detecting abnormal events based on vision or sound, after which a detailed investigation of the siutation might be required. The common sense capabililty that we develop shall allow the robot to complete similar inspection tasks in different (potentially changing) environments, such as governmental buildings, industrial plants, or train tracks. Our developments shall follow the latest achievements in artificial intelligence, world modelling, knowledge representations, mission planning and motion planning, where each team member has its own specialization.

Your research will be related to task and motion planning, assuming that the robot has an awareness about the situation it is currently in and about the situation that is desired. Therein, you will study and develop algorithms for planning the execution of the robot’s inspection task. Planning is constrained by the policies that are enforced by a user, while execution is constrained by the physical characteristics of the environment, or terrain, and by the limitations of the robot’s locomotion capabilities. Therefore, your research is expected to start from a graph representation describing the situation and the planning problem that needs to be solved, like a Markov decision process, after which some combination of logic reasoning, discrete optimization and machine learning results in a seemless execution in which the robot stays withing the bounderies set by the policy. Task execution may be aborted or adjusted in the case that obstacles need to be avoided, or new invesigation tasks emerge. Also, given the complexity and uncertainties of (unknown) events in the real world, your task and motion planning capability should exploit the experience of prior executions and learn how they may apply to in the current situation.

The OpenBots project is being carried out in a team of 5 PhD students, 3 at the Delft University of Technology (where this vacancy is one of such PhDs) and 2 at the University of Amsterdam. You will work 3 days a week at the university and the other 2 days you will work with all other 5 PhDs at one of the external partners being TNO and the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee where a physical lab environment is available. The project is carried out with supervisors from the Cognitive Robotics Group of the Delft University of Technology (Prof. J. Alonso-Mora , Dr. J. Sijs and Dr. C. Hernandez Corbato) and the Video and Image Sense Lab of the University of Amsterdam (Prof. Cees Snoek).


  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • Delft
  • Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


    Need to haves:

  • Graduated in one of these fields: System and Controls, Artificial Intelligence, Mechanical/Electrical Engineering, Robotics, or Applied Mathematics (or related).
  • Interest in robotics, artificial intelligence and data science.
  • Demonstrable experience in symbolic planning, reinforcement learning, motion planning and/or Markov decision processes.
  • Solid mathematics foundations, especially statistics, calculus and linear algebra;
  • Team player and willing to work in a multidisciplinary team of engineers, technicians and scientists.
  • Programming skills using languages such as Python/C++, as well as robotic tools, such as ROS and Gazebo.
  • You are highly motivated, independent, and creative.
  • Strong communication, presentation and writing skills and proficient command of English.
  • Nice to haves:

  • Experience with publishing scientific work.
  • Experience with embedded software and hardware.
  • Doing a PhD at TU Delft requires English proficiency at a certain level to ensure that the candidate is able to communicate and interact well, participate in English-taught Doctoral Education courses, and write scientific articles and a final thesis. For more details please check the .

    Conditions of employment

    Fixed-term contract: 4 years.

    Doctoral candidates will be offered a 4-year period of employment in principle, but in the form of 2 employment contracts. An initial 1,5 year contract with an official go/no go progress assessment within 15 months. Followed by an additional contract for the remaining 2,5 years assuming everything goes well and performance requirements are met.

    The starting date is flexible. Since the PhD is partly conducted at the external parties TNO and the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, that follow strict policies on handling sensitive information, please note that a security assessment will be part of the application procedure and that it may take anything from 10 weeks up to 5 months before a contract can be offered

    Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2770 per month in the first year to € 3539 in the fourth year. As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. The TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment with an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor. The Doctoral Education Programme is aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills.

    The TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, discounts on health insurance, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged.

    For international applicants, TU Delft has the . This service provides information for new international employees to help you prepare the relocation and to settle in the Netherlands. The Coming to Delft Service offers a for partners and they organise events to expand your (social) network.


    Delft University of Technology

    Delft University of Technology is built on strong foundations. As creators of the world-famous Dutch waterworks and pioneers in biotech, TU Delft is a top international university combining science, engineering and design. It delivers world class results in education, research and innovation to address challenges in the areas of energy, climate, mobility, health and digital society. For generations, our engineers have proven to be entrepreneurial problem-solvers, both in business and in a social context.

    At TU Delft we embrace diversity as one of our core and we actively to be a university where you feel at home and can flourish. We value different perspectives and qualities. We believe this makes our work more innovative, the TU Delft community more vibrant and the world more just. Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale. That is why we invite you to apply. Your application will receive fair consideration.

    Challenge. Change. Impact!


    Faculty Mechanical Engineering

    From chip to ship. From machine to human being. From idea to solution. Driven by a deep-rooted desire to understand our environment and discover its underlying mechanisms, research and education at the ME faculty focusses on fundamental understanding, design, production including application and product improvement, materials, processes and (mechanical) systems.

    ME is a dynamic and innovative faculty with high-tech lab facilities and international reach. It’s a large faculty but also versatile, so we can often make unique connections by combining different disciplines. This is reflected in ME’s outstanding, state-of-the-art education, which trains students to become responsible and socially engaged engineers and scientists. We translate our knowledge and insights into solutions to societal issues, contributing to a sustainable society and to the development of prosperity and well-being. That is what unites us in pioneering research, inspiring education and (inter)national cooperation.

    Click to go to the website of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. Do you want to experience working at our faculty? These will introduce you to some of our researchers and their work.

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