PhD Position Awareness and Tool Creation in Ancient Humans and Future Robots

PhD Position Awareness and Tool Creation in Ancient Humans and Future Robots

Published Deadline Location
20 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 your focus is the project foundations, and you will study the role of awareness in early tool use and tool creation by ancient humans and robots. You will help to expand an elaborate taxonomy, or ontology. Your data will feed this framework that forms the basis of the robotic predictive awareness models. You will work closely with researchers from Sussex University and you will be required to travel there and to there other partner institutions of the METATOOL project for meeting and collaboration. You will work in close partnership with the TUD METATOOL robotics PhD.

Main tasks:

  • Literature study on awareness across different domains (neuroscience, robotics, biology) , and on several early hominin stone tool industries
  • Create protocols for tool making experiments
  • Assist the project postdoc expanding the ontology, and to connect neuroscientific concepts to the ontology
  • Chaine opératoire or network analysis of early tool use, tool creation and awareness.
  • Predict other types of industries, for example by applying simple mathematical principles to the ontology
  • (Co) authoring scientific articles, presentations, and thesis.
  • Student supervision and teaching.

Note: The 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: Archaeology, neuroscience, or a relevant adjacent field with a significant behavioral aspect, such as psychology, ethology, or anthropology.
  • Willingness to be trained in ontologies and methods to study the METATOOL ontology.
  • Proven ability to finish projects in time.
  • Capacity to conduct an academic literture study.
  • Excellent communication skills in English (written and spoken).
  • The ability to work in an open, cooperative and multidiciplinary team.  

Desired qualifications and qualities:

  • Experience annotating observational data.
  • Experience setting-up and running experiments.
  • Affinity with Paleolithic archaeology and stone tool technologies.
  • Affinity with human evolution or human behaviour.
  • Experience/affinity with digital humanities.
  • Willingness to travel to Sussex to work with partners there for several weeks.

Personal development
You will specialize in Paleolithic archaeology, the evolution of technology and human awareness. In addition, you will become an ontology expert, and you will gain training and expertise in digital humanities, and observational techniques. 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 training in ontologies and methods to study the dataset. Depending on your experience you may receive training in archaeology, observation techniques and data annotation. During your contract you will be part of the 3mE Graduate School (more information below). 

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
  • TUD02612


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

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