PhD Position in Self-learning for Agile Navigation of Evolved Drone Bodies

Delft University of Technology

Drones find more and more applications, with examples ranging from making selfies to delivering packages or localizing gas leaks. Although the requirements for these various applications are very different, they are typically tackled with a very limited set of drone types. In fact, in most cases quadrotors are used – the well-known drones with four propellers. In contrast, in nature each flying animal has a body that is highly adapted to its ecological niche. This results in huge differences in terms of both body and brain, e.g., consider the differences between eagles, bats and mosquitoes.

In the SPEAR project, we aim to co-evolve the bodies and brains of drones for performing autonomous agile flight in dense, cluttered environments. TU Delft’s role in the project is to develop learning mechanisms that allow the evolutionary process to determine the fitness of different drone embodiments. The learning algorithms have to be flexible enough to deal with the various drone bodies and sensor configurations that arise during the artificial evolution, while being sample efficient enough to allow quick evaluation and robust enough to enable transfer from simulation to reality.

We are looking for a PhD candidate that will develop together with us the algorithms for learning a navigation policy for the different body and sensor configurations that arise during artificial evolution. In the quest for efficient, flexible, and robust learning mechanisms, we will consider learning paradigms ranging from reinforcement to unsupervised and self-supervised learning.

You will be guided by dr. Christophe De Wagter and prof. dr. Guido de Croon, and will take place in the Micro Air Vehicle laboratory (MAVLab), which is part of the Control and Operations department of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft. The project team also involves a postdoc whose emphasis will be more on the construction of the drone bodies and the transfer to the real world.

The MAVLab at TU Delft is one of the groups in the world with the broadest experience in achieving autonomous flight with different types of flying vehicles, including: soft-winged flapping wing vehicles (DelFly), hybrid drones of different types (tailsitters, DelftaCopter, Nederdrone, …), and various types of quadrotors (from 30 grams to 3 kg). The lab has all tools necessary for going from idea to design and hardware and software implementation. For more information, see:  

What we expect of you:

  • An MSc degree in Artificial Intelligence, robotics, or a related area.
  • Skills and attitude to function well in a team.
  • Wish to grow towards an independent researcher.
  • Fluent in English.
  • Drive for excellence in research.
  • Starting date early 2024.

Hands-on experience with real robot or drone hardware is appreciated.

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 Graduate Schools Admission Requirements.

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.

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 Coming to Delft Service . 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 Dual Career Programme for partners and they organise events to expand your (social) network.

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 values  and we actively engage  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!

The Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology is one of the world’s most highly ranked (and most comprehensive) research, education and innovation communities devoted entirely to aerospace engineering. More than 200 science staff, around 270 PhD candidates and close to 3000 BSc and MSc students apply aerospace engineering disciplines to address the global societal challenges that threaten us today, climate change without doubt being the most important. Our focal subjects: sustainable aerospace, big data and artificial intelligence, bio-inspired engineering and smart instruments and systems. Working at the faculty means working together. With partners in other faculties, knowledge institutes, governments and industry, both aerospace and non-aerospace. Working in field labs and innovation hubs on our university campus and beyond. 

Click here  to go to the website of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering.

For more information about this vacancy, please contact Guido de Croon via [email protected] .

Are you interested in this vacancy? Please apply before 5November 2023 via the application button and upload your motivation and CV.

  • A pre-employment screening can be part of the selection procedure.
  • Applying for an exemption for specific research and educational areas is an obligatory part of the selection procedure for this vacancy. This exemption must be obtained from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) before an employment contract is agreed upon. Click here for more information.
  • You can apply online. We will not process applications sent by email and/or post.
  • Please do not contact us for unsolicited services.

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