PhD Candidate on “SMEAR - Design of a Soft-Material-Exploring Autonomous Robot”

PhD Candidate on “SMEAR - Design of a Soft-Material-Exploring Autonomous Robot”

Published Deadline Location
19 Jul 25 Sep Eindhoven

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Job description

State-of-the-art machines to manipulate soft matter —materials that behave as soft solids or liquids, depending on the level of force applied to them, such as sunscreen gels, clay, mayonnaise, tomato sauce— are preprogrammed to execute the same motion endlessly. By itself, the machine has no intelligence, no perception that a soft material must be manipulated, nor can autonomously adapt its plans to change the shape of the material. The intelligence is currently placed in the mind of the developer(s) who built the system and told it how to move. The SMEAR project aims at bringing part of this intelligence and autonomy in manipulating soft matter into the machine, by integrating and improving the latest available perception technologies in the domain of computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) with ``traditional'' state-of-the-art model-based engineering techniques, with the goal of designing a prototype robotic system for autonomous manipulation of soft matter.

The SMEAR project is part of the multi-disciplinary 'Engineering Design research program' of the Department of Mechanical Engineering of Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). The project is a collaboration between the divisions of Dynamical Systems Design (DSD, focused on systems, dynamics and control), Thermo Fluids Engineering (TFE, focused on heat and flow), and Computational and Experimental Mechanics (CEM, focused on mechanics and materials). The design of a soft-material manipulating robot requires multi-disciplinarity, combining hardware design, modeling, computer vision, AI, programming, and robot control. The most prominent components of the SMEAR project are:
  • The design and validation of a perception module able to perceive the spatial occupancy (shape) of the soft material based from RGB(D) camera images, soft matter properties, and enviroment information, potentially including robot-soft-matter interaction forces. Training of the perception module is expected to be based on synthetic data (photorealistic rendering / shape pairs);
  • The development of an at-least interactive-rate (60Hz) computational method for soft materials, which captures the essential physics (yield stress, non-Newtonian fluid rheological behavior). A prototype computer code capturing essential continuum-scale physics will be implemented and validated against experiments;
  • The implementation of the numerical model in a virtual robot environment, combining a physics engine, photo realistic rendering, and advanced robot control software. Essentially, a digital twin of the robot and material will be constructed, thus creating a virtual 'playground';
  • The design, construction and testing of a physical prototype of a robotic system for autonomous manipulation of soft matter, showing perception capability (shape and material property estimation) in the real world.

  • Detailed literature review of soft-matter modeling, particle-based methods, deformable and soft object reconstruction from RGB(D) camera images, robot control of soft/granular matter, parameter calibration procedures;
  • Development and implementation of the above-mentioned models and methods;
  • Pro-actively enabling the collaboration between the involved disciplines;
  • Dissemination of the results of your research in international and peer-reviewed journals and conferences;
  • Writing a successful dissertation based on the developed research and defending it;
  • Assume educational tasks like the supervision of Master students and internships.


Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e)


We are looking for a candidate who meets the following requirements:
  • You have experience with or a strong background in applied mathematics, physics, computer vision and ideally also (robot) dynamics and control. Preferably, you finished a Master's program in (Applied) Mathematics, (Applied) Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Robotics, Systems and Control, Information Technologies, of Electrical Engineering.
  • You have good programming skills and experience (Python, C/C++).
  • You have good communication skills and the attitude to participate successfully in the work of a research team.
  • You are creative, ambitious, organized, and persistent.
  • You have good command of the English language (knowledge of Dutch is not required).
  • You are a talented and enthusiastic young researcher.

Conditions of employment

  • We offer a challenging job for four years in a highly motivated team at a dynamic and ambitious University. You will be part of a highly profiled multidisciplinary collaboration where expertise of a variety of disciplines comes together. The TU/e is located in one of the smartest regions of the world and part of the European technology hotspot 'Brainport Eindhoven'; well-known because of many high-tech industries and start-ups. A place to be for talented scientists!
  • A full-time employment for four years, with an intermediate evaluation (go/no-go) after nine months.
  • To develop your teaching skills, you will spend 10% of your employment on teaching tasks.
  • To support you during your PhD and to prepare you for the rest of your career, you will make a Training and Supervision plan and you will have free access to a personal development program for PhD students (PROOF program).
  • A gross monthly salary (starts with € 2.395 in the first year to € 3.061 in the fourth year), and benefits (such as a pension scheme, pregnancy and maternity leave, partially paid parental leave) in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement for Dutch Universities.
  • Additionally, an annual holiday allowance of 8% of the yearly salary, plus a year-end allowance of 8.3% of the annual salary.
  • Should you come from abroad and comply with certain conditions, you can make use of the so-called '30% facility', which permits you not to pay tax on 30% of your salary.
  • Assistance for finding accommodation is provided.
  • A broad package of fringe benefits, including an excellent technical infrastructure, moving expenses, and savings schemes.
  • Family-friendly initiatives are in place, such as an international spouse program, and excellent on-campus children day care and sports facilities.


  • PhD
  • Engineering
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • University graduate
  • V35.5805


Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e)

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De Rondom 70, 5612 AP, Eindhoven

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