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PhD Studentship - Robot Swarms for Environmental Monitoring: Investigating Behavioural Plasticity

University of Bristol - Engineering Mathematics

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Bristol
Funding for: UK Students
Funding amount: £18,000 Enhanced tax-free stipend. per annum, for 3.5 years
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 22nd April 2022
Closes: 20th September 2022

The project:

Autonomous robot teams or ‘swarms’ have great potential to enhance monitoring of different environments, by providing a mobile sensor network that can cover a complex, dynamic area. This PhD project will help to develop important principles for the deployment of robot swarms in the field, with a focus on security applications. These principles will be validated through meaningful experimental data collected in robot field trials.

Deploying robots into real-world environments, even enclosed environments such as office buildings, is a difficult challenge. This is because the world is inherently unpredictable and uncertain, and hence robot designs that work well in carefully controlled laboratory environments are liable to encounter difficulties in real-world operation. A key enabler could be to have a suitable level of plasticity (flexibility) in behaviour, such that robots can adapt online to their environment.

This studentship will investigate the value of variability in fundamental robot behaviour, across what have been called ‘personality’ axes, such as slow—fast, shy—bold, or exploratory—neophobic.  Such variation could result from an implementation of reinforcement learning, for example, in relation to task performance (e.g. anomaly detection success). This could be introduced alongside other aspects of plasticity, for instance in robot movement patterns.

The investigations will be undertaken in realistic simulations of ROS-based rover robots in the Gazebo simulator, and at a University of Bristol field site. Experimental work (simulated and real) will be complemented by development of a conceptual framework to measure and predict the positive (or negative) impact of behavioural plasticity.

The project is supported by FCDO Services, part of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) of the UK. 

How to apply:

Before applying, please contact Dr Hunt with your CV for an informal discussion.  No indication of an offer can be made until we receive your completed application.

To apply, submit a PhD application using our online application system [www.bristol.ac.uk/pg-howtoapply]

Please ensure that in the Funding section you tick “I would like to be considered for a funding award from the Engineering Mathematics Department” and specify the title of the scholarship in the “other” box below along with the name of the supervisor. 

Interested candidates should apply as soon as possible.

By applying to this PhD, the applicant is agreeing to undertake UK security vetting if it becomes necessary during the PhD. Applicants are asked to declare any reasons why they might not be eligible to work in this area. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/united-kingdom-security-vetting-applicant

Candidate requirements: 

Applicants must hold/achieve a minimum of a master’s degree (or international equivalent) in robotics, computer science, engineering (for example, mechanical, electronic), physics, mathematics or other relevant discipline.  Applicants without a master’s qualification may be considered on an exceptional basis, provided they hold a first-class undergraduate degree.

Essential:

  • Excellent analytical skills and some experience with coding (C++/Python preferred)
  • Excellent teamwork skills and a proactive attitude.

Desirable:

  • Prior experience with robotics, including ROS and simulation in Gazebo.
  • Prior experience with machine learning techniques such as reinforcement learning.

Funding:

Enhanced tax-free stipend of £18,000 for 3.5 years. £1,500 p.a. research and training funding.

Contacts:  

For questions about the research topic please contact Dr Edmund Hunt at Edmund.hunt@bristol.ac.uk  

For questions about eligibility and the application process please contact sceem-pgr-admissions@bristol.ac.uk

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