PhD on Autonomous Swarms of Flapping Wing Drones in Greenhouses

PhD on Autonomous Swarms of Flapping Wing Drones in Greenhouses

Published Deadline Location
9 Nov 5 Dec Delft

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The main topic of the PhD is Artificial Intelligence for autonomous flapping wing drones that will monitor greenhouses. Activities will range from control to robotic vision and swarming, all the while performing experiments in relevant greenhouse environments.

Job description

In horticulture, one of the most urgent problems is pest/disease detection, as they cause up to 10% harvest loss, while the use of chemicals is increasingly prohibited. For consumers, food safety is increasingly important. A potential solution for both challenges is frequent and automated pest/disease monitoring. Although technological developments such as propeller-based drones and robotic arms are in full swing, these are not suitable for vertical horticulture (e.g., tomatoes, cucumbers). A better solution for less labour-intensive pest detection in vertical crop horticulture, are swarms of bio-inspired Flapping Wings Micro Aerial Vehicles (FWMAVs).

The goal of this project is to develop bio-inspired FW-MAVs for indoor application, to support greenhouse growers of vertically growing crops in monitoring pest/disease onset detection and localization. FW-MAVs swarm is an innovative technology originating from the emulation of biological phenomena: hummingbirds and insects like dragonflies, hoverflies and bumblebees use their wings to hover in place, make a quick transition into flight and instant changes to their flight path. More research is needed to develop FW-MAVs with high hovering ability that are capable of carrying dedicated detection equipment such as camera vision and other sensors to detect, localize, identify and quantify pests/diseases. Subsequent data processing also needs to be addressed. The development of FW-MAVs is a multidisciplinary challenge requiring cross-domain collaboration between several partners, such as growers, biologists, entomologists and engineers with expertise in robotics, mechanics, aerodynamics, electronics, etc. In this project a co-creation based collaboration is established with all stakeholders involved: academia, industry, horticulture and branch organizations.

The PhD candidate will do research in the project research area focusing on the design of the flight control unit and on the development of an autonomous navigation system (HW/SW) for the control of FW-MAVs swarm deployed in greenhouses for pest/disease monitoring. In this project research area, the biomimicry research group at Inholland will collaborate with the Micro Aerial Vehicle Laboratory (MAV-Lab) at Faculty of Aerospace, TU Delft and the microelectronics department at Faculty EWI, TU Delft. The PhD candidate will be supervised by Dr Mauro Gallo (biomimicry research group, Inholland) and Dr Chris Verhoeven (microelectronics department, TU Delft), and Prof. Guido de Croon (MAV-Lab, TU Delft).

The flight control system design has to be taken into account simultaneously to the development of the flapping mechanism in order to prevent less elegant and heavy solutions altering and/or overwhelming the bio-inspired features of the MAV. In this project, you will work on the flight control unit. Basic flight control of a drone’s attitude angle is relatively mature. However, velocity and height control in greenhouses is a substantial challenge, and will have to be tackled first in the project. Subsequently, you will focus on vision-based obstacle avoidance in complex greenhouse environments. Finally, in collaboration with biologist/entomologist you will understand the navigation strategies adopted by insects swarms such as honeybees with the aim of defining a less energy demanding autonomous navigation system for the FWMAVs swarms. Even in the design of the autonomous navigation system, simulation and real-world experimental tests will be used to assess the performance of the different options leading to the definition of the most promising autonomous navigation system. This will be tested and validated on already existing flapping wings and propeller-based drones as well as on the FWMAVs developed in the course of the project. 


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


  • MSc degree in Systems and Control, Aerospace/Aeronautical engineering, Computer Science, Applied Mathematics, Robotics, or a related field.
  • Excellent command of Python / Matlab and/or C++ / C
  • Genuine interest for coaching and education
  • Independent, self-motivated, reliable, and eager to learn.
  • Ability to work in a project team and take leadership and responsibility for different research tasks.
  • Ability to work at the intersection of several research domains
  • A curiosity-driven mindset and a passion for (doing) research and education
  • An open personality for cooperation with colleagues and co-supervision of students

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 Aerospace Engineering

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 250 PhD candidates and over 2,700 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.


  • PhD
  • Engineering
  • 38—40 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • TUD03064


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

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