(CLOSED) Open PhD position on learning how to autonomously exploit updrafts

The Faculty of Aerospace Engineering  of Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands, announces a vacancy for one Ph.D. student within the project:

Learning how to autonomously exploit updrafts


Description of the project:

Birds exploit various types of updrafts in their environment in order to save energy when flying. Birds of prey use thermals to gain height, pigeons use updrafts around hills and buildings, while albatrosses use dynamic soaring over the waves of the sea.

The primary goal of this PhD project is to provide Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) with similar updraft exploitation capabilities. In order to achieve autonomous exploitation of updrafts, MAVs will have to perceive the airflow, the structure of the environment, and their own movement. Moreover, they need to be able to perform control that minimizes energy expenditure, preferably by learning to do so in their own environment.

The project entails demonstrating autonomous updraft exploitation strategies in the real world, flying in updrafts around ships (with preliminary tests over dunes, and perhaps final tests in urban areas). Hence, the project involves elaborate outdoor flight testing besides the development of new perception and learning strategies in theory and simulation.

The project will be carried out within the MAVLab (http://mavlab.tudelft.nl/), which is part of the Control and Simulation section of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. The MAVLab investigates the design and control of novel types of MAVs, such as the DelFly (a 16-gram flapping wing MAV) [1] and the DelftaCopter (a hybrid MAV that has both a wing and a helicopter blade) [2]. In terms of control, the MAVLab has experience both with “traditional” control methods ranging from low-level to high-level control loops and with machine learning – ranging from evolutionary robotics to self-supervised learning. The proposed position will involve the learning of control by a fixed wing and / or hybrid MAV. The study will have a big experimental component, testing out the developments in a real-world environment. The supervisors will be dr. Guido de Croon, ir. Bart Remes, and ir. Christophe De Wagter from the Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory.

What do we ask? 

We are looking for a candidate with an MSc degree in an area such as Robotics, Aerospace Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Computer Science, Mechatronics, Control Systems Theory, or a similar field. The candidate is expected to be passionate about developing autonomous robots, not only focusing on the AI or control algorithms, but also on hands-on development and flight testing. Programming experience is required in Matlab/Python and/or C/C++. It is very much appreciated if the candidate has experience working with or designing electronics and / or drone hardware.

Previous experience with robotic or mechatronic systems and their control is an asset. Please note that the Ph.D. candidate will work within a team with ample experience in design and prototyping of tiny drones, autopilots (in particular Paparazzi) and micro-electronics as well as with bio-inspired artificial intelligence and control. The candidate must have strong analytical skills and must be able to work at the intersection of several research domains (artificial intelligence, control, mechatronics, mechanical design, aerospace). A very good command of the English language is required, as well as excellent communication skills.


What do we offer? 

We offer the opportunity to do scientifically challenging research in a multi-disciplinary research group. The appointment will be for a period of 4 years. As an employee of the university you will receive a competitive salary, as well as excellent secondary benefits in accordance with the Collective Agreement (CAO) of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). Your gross salary in the first year will be according to the first step of the standard Dutch salary scale for a PhD candidate, which is currently € 2,325.00 gross per month (approximately € 1,856.00 net) excluded the 30% rule. In the second year, your salary will be increased to € 2,709.00 gross. This salary is to increase further in your third and fourth year. Assistance with accommodation can be arranged.


How to apply?

Submit your application to Bertine Markus (email: b.m.markus@tudelft.nl ) before December 18, 2019 with “Updraft exploitation” in the subject. Include a cover letter along with a detailed curriculum vitae, a separate motivation letter stating why the proposed research topic interests you, electronic links to or copies of a few selected publications (if applicable), an overview (photos / videos) of possible “hobby projects” in the area of robotics / drones, the summary of your MSc thesis, your MSc and BSc course programs and the corresponding grades, names and addresses of two to three reference persons, and other information that might be relevant to your application. Job interviews will take place from January 5 – January 10 2019.



[1] De Croon, G. C. H. E., Perçin, M., Remes, B. D. W., Ruijsink, R., & De Wagter, C. (2016). The DelFly. Berlin: Springer Netherlands.

[2] De Wagter, C., Ruijsink, R., Smeur, E. J., van Hecke, K. G., van Tienen, F., van der Horst, E., & Remes, B. D. (2018). Design, control, and visual navigation of the DelftaCopter VTOL tail‐sitter UAV. Journal of Field Robotics, 35(6), 937-960.