PhD Fellowship in Artificial Intelligence

Updated: 6 months ago
Job Type: FullTime
Deadline: 20 Mar 2020

About the position

The Norwegian Open AI Lab (see ) currently has a vacancy for a PhD fellow through the research project entitled: Gentle and Advanced Robotic Manipulation of 3D Compliant Objects (GentleMAN). This project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council and represents a cooperative effort between SINTEF Ocean, NTNU’s computer-science department, and several other partners (listed below).

The doctoral candidate will investigate and design artificial intelligence systems that combine machine learning, control theory, and robotics with the goal of achieving human-like performance in the robotic manipulation of 3D compliant objects. This will require AI methods such as Deep Learning (DL), Reinforcement Learning (RL), Deep Reinforcement Learning (DRL) and their integration with multimodal sensors (visual and tactile) and complex actuators (robot arms, hands and fingers). Other important AI tools include those for representing and reasoning about the 3D world, as well as about the purposeful actions of agents in the world.

The research will be conducted in both the robotics laboratory of SINTEF Ocean and in the Department of Computer Science at NTNU; the candidate will have office space at both locations. The robot platform for research trials, while developing novel AI systems for robotic manipulation of 3D compliant objects, will consist on Panda Franka Emika 7-DoF robot arm, RGB-D cameras such as Intel RealSense D435, and robot gripper such as ReFlex TakkTile 2.

About the project

The main objectives of the GentleMAN project are a) to develop a novel multi-modal learning framework that uses visual (RGB-D images, Point Clouds) and tactile sensing, b) to interface this model with the underlying robot controller, thus enabling the automated learning of new and advanced skills for the manipulation of 3D compliant objects, and c) to deploy this AI robot across a wide range of complex manipulation scenarios.

Within that larger project, the emphasis of this particular PhD research will be upon both a) end-to-end learning from raw sensory data to compliant-object manipulation, without explicit models of the world, and b) more cognitively complex modes of manipulative activity involving explicit representations, predictions and reasoning. This latter endeavor will focus upon explicit purposes/intentions and their effects upon sensorimotor perception and action.

The project stems from a highly interdisciplinary consortium composed of many well-established entities: SINTEF, NTNU, MIT’s Computer Science and AI Lab (CSAIL), The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), The French National Research Institute for the Digital Sciences (INRIA), and Queensland (Australia) University of Technology (QUT)

This is a 3-year position that will immerse the candidate in a complex interdisciplinary problem and provide a quality academic backdrop for the attainment of a computer-science doctoral degree. The primary academic supervisor of the work will be Professor Keith Downing (NTNU), while the technical supervisor will be Dr. Ekrem Misimi (SINTEF Ocean), leader of the GentleMAN project.

The position reports to head of Department

Main duties and responsibilities

  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of contemporary research in AI-based, visual and tactile -based robotic manipulation
  • Develop a novel, AI-based robot learning framework for 3D compliant-object manipulation tasks such as grasping of static deformable objects, and more advanced manipulation tasks such as grasping in motion and shape deformation with intent
  • Disseminate results of the work via conference presentations and peer-reviewed conference and journal publication. Examples of aimed relevant publication channels are CVPR, ICRA, IROS, IJRR, IEEE RA-L, CoRL etc.
  • Collaborate effectively with researchers and students at NTNU and SINTEF Ocean

Qualification requirements

The PhD-position's main objective is to qualify for work in research positions. The qualification requirement is completion of a master’s degree or second degree (equivalent to 120 credits) with a strong academic background in artificial intelligence or equivalent education with a grade of B or better in terms of NTNU’s grading scale . Applicants with no letter grades from previous studies must have an equally good academic foundation. Applicants who are unable to meet these criteria may be considered only if they can document that they are particularly suitable candidates for education leading to a PhD degree.

The appointment is to be made in accordance with the regulations in force concerning State Employees and Civil Servants and national guidelines for appointment as PhD, postdoctor and research assistant

The candidate must have the following qualifications:

  • Strong background in artificial intelligence
  • Experience with computer vision, physical robots, or 3D simulation
  • Excellent programming skills, preferably in: C++ and Python
  • Excellent written and oral English; excellent written and oral Norwegian language skills are strongly desired but not a strict requirement
  • Ability to work independently as well as collaboratively

The following qualifications will be considered as an advantage:

  • Experience from industry, preferably with using machine-learning or other AI techniques
  • Experience with advanced machine-learning methods such as Deep Learning, Deep Reinforcement Learning, or Probabilistic AI
  • Experience in formal knowledge representation using tools such as Bayesian Networks, Frames or First-Order Predicate Logic

NTNU is committed to following evaluation criteria for research quality according to The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment - DORA.

Personal characteristics

  • Curious
  • Diligent
  • Cooperative
  • Empathetic

In the evaluation of which candidate is best qualified, emphasis will be placed on education, experience and personal suitability, as well as motivation, in terms of the qualification requirements specified in the advertisement

We offer

Salary and conditions

PhD candidates are remunerated in code 1017, and are normally remunerated at gross from NOK 479 600 before tax per year. From the salary, 2 % is deducted as a contribution to the Norwegian Public Service Pension Fund.

The period of employment is 3 years (or 4 with optional academic duties). Appointment to a PhD position requires admission to the PhD programme in Computer Science ( ).

As a PhD candidate, you undertake to participate in an organized PhD programme during the employment period. A condition of appointment is that you are in fact qualified for admission to the PhD programme within three months.

The engagement is to be made in accordance with the regulations in force concerning State Employees and Civil Servants, and the acts relating to Control of the Export of Strategic Goods, Services and Technology. Candidates who by assessment of the application and attachment are seen to conflict with the criterias in the latter law will be prohibited from recruitment to NTNU. After the appointment you must assume that there may be changes in the area of work.

General information

A good work environment is characterized by diversity. We encourage qualified candidates to apply, regardless of their gender, functional capacity or cultural background. Under the Freedom of Information Act (offentleglova), information about the applicant may be made public even if the applicant has requested not to have their name entered on the list of applicants.

The national labour force must reflect the composition of the population to the greatest possible extent. NTNU wants to increase the proportion of women in its scientific posts, so women are strongly encouraged to apply. Furthermore, Trondheim offers great opportunities for education (including international schools) and possibilities to enjoy nature, culture and family life ( Having a population of 200 000, Trondheim is a small city by international standards with low crime rates and little pollution. It also has easy access to a beautiful countryside with mountains and a dramatic coastline.

Questions about the position can be directed to Keith Downing ( ) or Ekrem Misimi ( ).

About the application:

Publications that the applicant would like to be considered in the evaluation must accompany the application. Joint publications will be considered, but it is often difficult to identify the individual applicant's contribution to joint articles, so the applicant should include a brief description of his or her contribution(s) to jointly-authored articles.

In addition, each applicant must submit an essay of 400-600 words describing how they would combine deep learning with reinforcement learning and/or other AI models to design a robot learning framework that can enable the robot to learn new manipulation skills from simple examples, such as grasping of deformable objects.  Applicants who fail to submit this essay will not be considered for the position.

Please submit your application electronically via with your CV, diplomas and certificates. Applications submitted elsewhere will not be considered. Diploma Supplement is required to attach for European Master Diplomas outside Norway. Chinese applicants are required to provide confirmation of Master Diploma from China Credentials Verification (CHSI): ).

Applicants invited for interview must include certified copies of transcripts and reference letters.

Please refer to the application number 2020/1570 when applying.

Application deadline: 18.02.2020

NTNU - knowledge for a better world

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) creates knowledge for a better world and solutions that can change everyday life.

Department of Computer Science 

We are the leading academic IT environment in Norway, and offer a wide range of theoretical and applied IT programmes of study at all levels. Our subject areas include hardware, algorithms, visual computing, AI, databases, software engineering, information systems, learning technology, HCI, CSCW, IT operations and applied data processing. The Department has groups in both Trondheim and Gjøvik. The Department of Computer Science is one of seven departments in the Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering .

Deadline 20th March 2020
EmployerNTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Municipality Trondheim
Scope Fulltime
Duration Temporary
Place of service Trondheim

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