PhD Position (Self)-Aware Robots for Tool Creation

PhD Position (Self)-Aware Robots for Tool Creation

Published Deadline Location
19 Jul 15 Sep Delft

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How did our ancestors come up with the first tools? Can we analyze this (self) awareness and teach robots how to create their own tools?

Job description

The METATOOL project is a groundbreaking international and multidisciplinary project that aims at developing a novel computational model of cognition based on predictive processing (metacognition) and validating its utility in real robots in the context of conditional sequential tasks (tool use) and tool creation.

We are looking for an enthusiastic team player to unravel the impact of awareness in the evolution of tool use and tool making. The project consists of two parts:

  1. The design of the theoretical foundations of a consistent model of tool creation based on awareness, with the neuroscience, cognition and AI experts of the university of Sussex, Radboud University and Universidad Politecnica de Madrid;
  2. The validation of the model by teaching a robot how to create tools the way our ancestors did, with the experts in robotics in Madrid and Delft.

As a project PhD candidate, you will contribute to the hybrid cognitive architecture for awareness developed in the project, and set up and carry out experimental protocols for testing the impact of awareness in tool use and tool-making amongst ancient humans and robots.

You will be collaborating closely with researchers at Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and Radboud University, and travelling to those and other partner institutions in the METATOOL project is required for project meetings and collaborations. You will work in close partnership with the TUD METATOOL archaeology PhD.


  • Perform literature studies on the modelling of manipulation behaviours and the cognitive skills that drive them, and on the notion of functional awareness and its implications with tool use and tool making in robotics and evolutionary settings;
  • Develop a novel contribution integrating the METATOOL models of awareness developed by other partners in the symbolic framework* developed by TUD team, and operationalize it in a hybrid cognitive architecture for robotic manipulation.
  • Design and carry out simulated and real robotic tool-making experiments with the hybrid architecture to understand what cognitive skills are required when making the earliest tools we know of, and validate the METATOOL models of awareness;

Other tasks include:

  • (Co) authoring scientific articles and thesis.
  • Student supervision and teaching.

Note: TUD team will develop the METATOOL conceptual framework from a domain ontology for tool behaviors that is the result of a previous project: see


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


Required qualifications and qualities:

  • MA/MSc in: AI, Robotics, or an adjacent field with a significant background on symbolic methods in AI and/or knowledge representation and reasoning.
  • Capacity of conducting academic literature research.
  • Proven ability to finish projects on time.
  • Excellent communication skills in English (written and spoken).
  • Ability to work in an open, cooperative, multidisciplinary team.

Desired qualifications and qualities:

  • Interest in at least one of the following: cognitive science, archaeology, philosophy, neuroscience.
  • Experience with practical robotics projects and ROS (for example by controlling a robot arm or a moving robot) or willingness to train during the PhD.
  • Experience with scripting, programming, with regards to planning in robotics (PDDL, Prolog, Python or another scripting language).
  • Interest/experience in simulation environments for robotics testing such as Gazebo.
  • Willingness to travel to Madrid, Spain for the robotics experiments.
  • Willingness to attend Summer schools in the project's topics if needed.

Personal development

You will specialize in symbolic representations of actions and plans and robotics manipulators. When you graduate you will have a diverse interdisciplinary network that includes roboticists, neuroscientists, and archaeologists. 
You are encouraged to develop your own (current) expertise/interest further within the METATOOL project.
In collaboration with the project partners, you will receive (additional) ROS (Robot Operating System) training. During your contract you will be part of the 3mE Graduate School (more information below). There are opportunities to guest lecture in existing BA and MSc courses, and you are expected to supervise MSc students.

Note : We know that it is highly unlikely that one person can meet all these requirements. When in doubt about your suitability: apply.  

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.

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.

Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2541 per month in the first year to € 3247 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 sport memberships, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged. For international applicants we offer the Coming to Delft Service and Partner Career Advice to assist you with your relocation.


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 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!


Faculty Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering

The Faculty of 3mE carries out pioneering research, leading to new fundamental insights and challenging applications in the field of mechanical engineering. From large-scale energy storage, medical instruments, control technology and robotics to smart materials, nanoscale structures and autonomous ships. The foundations and results of this research are reflected in outstanding, contemporary education, inspiring students and PhD candidates to become socially engaged and responsible engineers and scientists. The faculty of 3mE is a dynamic and innovative faculty with an international scope and high-tech lab facilities. Research and education focus on the design, manufacture, application and modification of products, materials, processes and mechanical devices, contributing to the development and growth of a sustainable society, as well as prosperity and welfare.

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


  • PhD
  • Engineering
  • 32—38 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • TUD02611


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

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