PhD SMEAR - Design of a Soft-Material-Exploring Autonomous Robot

Updated: about 1 month ago
Deadline: 30 Sep 2021

The Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), Department of Mechanical Engineering has a vacancy for a PhD Candidate on SMEAR - Design of a Soft-Material-Exploring Autonomous Robot (V35.5155).


Mechanical Engineering

Reference number


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 development of a particle-based 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 design and validation of a perception module able to perceive the spatial occupacy (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 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.

Job requirements

We are looking for a candidate who meets the following requirements:

  • You are a talented and enthusiastic young researcher.
  • 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, or 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).

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!

The gross monthly salary in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement of the Dutch Universities (CAO NU), starts with € 2.395 (in the first year) to € 3.061 (in the fourth year). Besides this, the TU/e has holiday and end-of the-year allowances, an excellent package of attractive benefits for employees and a modern sports complex. Assistance for finding accommodation is provided. Especially for PhD candidates, the TU/e also offers opportunities for personal development. We do this by offering every PhD candidate a series of courses that are part of the PROOF program as an excellent addition to your scientific education.

Information and application

More information about the project can be obtained through the project’s supervisory team: A. Saccon (a.saccon[at], N.O. Jaensson (n.o.jaensson[at], and C.V. Verhoosel (c.v.verhoosel[at] Personnel information can be obtained by contacting H. Boulgalag, HR Advisor(h.boulgalag[a] Further information about the employment conditions can be found here .

You can respond to this vacancy via our application page by clicking on the button "Solliciteer op deze vacature / Apply for this job" including:

  • a cover letter (stating personal goal and research interests connecting to one or more of the topics defined above),
  • a complete Curriculum Vitae (including a list of publications, if any),
  • transcript of BSc and MSc courses with grades
  • at least one recommendation letter.

We do not respond to applications that are sent to us in a different way.

Both national and international applications to this advertisement are appreciated. Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. Promising candidates will be contacted by email.

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