[robotics-worldwide] Phd Positons in Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) - Dept. of Advanced Robotics

Tsagarakis Nikos nikos.tsagarakis at iit.it
Tue Sep 16 05:36:19 PDT 2008

Dear all,
The Department  of Advanced Robotics at the Italian Institute of Technology is offering this year a number of PhD positions in Robotics.
Project themes are grouped into four main streams: Humanoid Robotics, Biomimetics, Telepresence VR and Haptics and Medical Robotics (see abstracts below) 
The Deadline for the applications is the 3rd of October 2008.
More information and details on how to apply can be found in http://www.iit.it/phd_positions <https://netexchange.netscalibur.it/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.iit.it/phd_positions>  
For further details concerning the research projects, please contact nikos.tsagarakis at iit.it
PhD Themes
Stream 1: Telepresence, VR and Haptics

Researchers working in this area will work on the development of multimodal telepresence and haptic interaction paradigms, and hardware/software drawing on simultaneously displayed cutaneous and kineathesic experiences, the application of these technologies in human computer interactions and human centred robotics and the key psycho-physical testing of the experiences. The work will draw on expertise in engineering (mechanical and electronic) and computer systems. There may also be a small number of opportunities for researchers from a Psycho-physics and/or Psychology background.



Theme 3.1: Bi-manual Semi-Exoskeleton for Enhanced Teleoperation and Virtual Immersion

Tutor: Dr Nikos Tsagarakis

N. of available positions: 1


The sense of touch is crucial in any kind of training or teleoperation procedures as these actions require the user to extensively engage his hand and fingers. In the recent years the rapid improvements in hardware and software to provide effective force/touch feedback has led to the development of generic haptic devices that have been applied in various training simulators and teleoperation systems. In most of these instances the mobility, dexterity and general utility for unencumbered use are relatively poor. In addition these systems provide only point contact and cannot address much more complex haptic scenarios where hands (groping with fingers or manipulation) are used to feel forces of varying levels while manipulating objects in a large workspace. To be of any advantage the touch modality should be conveyed to the user in a natural manner through a highly perceptive and transparent haptic interface. 

The development of a multi degree of freedom haptic system (based on exoskeletal systems) with large isotropic working volume, high backdrivability and multimodal feedback capability will be the core of this research.  

Applicants ideally should have a background in one or more of the following fields: electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, and robotics. The candidates must have good writing and communication skills and motivation to work in a highly competitive and multidisciplinary environment.

Experience with CAD and a good knowledge of robot kinematics analysis would be a benefit. 

<mailto:nikos.tsagarakis at iit.it>  



Theme 3.2: Integration of Multimodal Virtual Reality System

Tutor: Eng. Andrea Brogni, Dr. Nikos Tsagarakis

N. of Positions: 1


Virtual Reality systems are daily becoming more complex, due to the evolution of different inputs, such as motion capture, 3D sounds, bio-feedback, haptic interfaces and robots. The integration and the mode of interacting in those multi-modal environments is a fundamental area of research for this field. Different sensory streams are coming from different devices and making an interactive application implies deal with many different formats. 

The topic of the research will involve be studying the systems available in the department and the definition of a basic standard for the communications. The design and the development of a multimodal platform for the integration will be the second part of the research. The work will be based on previous studies and in collaboration with other researchers.

The ideal candidate should have a background on computer science or engineering and a strong attitude to mix theory and practice, including programming C++ libraries and interfaces for hardware.

<mailto:Andrea.Brogni at iit.it>  



Theme 3.3: Interfacing a Virtual Reality Environment with Haptic Interfaces and/or Robots

Tutor: Eng. Andrea Brogni, Dr. Nick Tsagarakis

N. of Positions: 1


The sense of presence involves the human reactions during the virtual experience. How the user reacts, in behaviour, physiologically and physically, are key points for the evaluation of the level of engagement. Using haptic interfaces and robots, we will introduce other feedbacks, i.e. touch and weight or the physical presence of avatars, that will effect how the user interacts and explore how the user behaves in this configuration? What is the best paradigm for the interaction? What kind of applications would be optimal for increasing the level of presence?

The topic of the PhD will be studying the human approach in an immersive virtual environment, when a user has to deal with haptic feedback and robotics mechanism. In particular, the interaction with robotic avatars, human-like or machine, during specific collaborative tasks or experiences will be explored.

The ideal candidate should have a background on computer science or engineering and a strong attitude to mix theory and practice, including programming C++ libraries, interfaces for hardware and 3D OpenGL graphics. Experience in Virtual reality and Presence field could be an advantage.

<mailto:Andrea.Brogni at iit.it>  



Theme 3.4: Investigation of the physiology and psychophysics of the human fingertip.

Tutor: Prof Darwin G Caldwell

N. of Positions: 1


The human fingers and particularly the fingertips are key to the haptic perception of contact with an environment, yet there is a comparatively poor understanding of the nature of finger tip sensing and perception. 

This work will involve a study of human tactile perception using a tactile array of vertical-moving pins in contact with the fingertip. It will investigate the sensory nature of the finger tip in terms of spatial and temporal resolution, and psychophysics methodologies to evaluate human tactile performance and use this data to define and specify the design of haptic interfaces. It is also expected that the work will involve testing an use of fMRI and MRI scans.

The applicant ideally should have good background in psychophysics. Experience in robotics and graphics OpenGL is an additional bonus but not essential. 

<mailto:Darwin.Caldwell at iit.it>  



Theme 3.5: High Fidelity Telepresence Control of a High Dexterity robotic hand

Tutor: Prof Darwin G Caldwell

N. of Positions: 1


The teleoperation there is often a poor mapping between the actions of the operator and particularly the hand movements of the operators and the movements of the robotic end-effector. This makes high precision, high fidelity manipulation of small or delicate object exteemely difficult or impossible.

This project will bring together several research threads considering the development of high fidelity input gloves and finger tracking systems, advanced feedback systems for the fingers  (hand exoskeletons, tactile array, thermal feedback) and miniature dextrous manipulators with over 23 dof and advanced tactile sensing.

Applicants should have a strong engineering or physical science background.

<mailto:Darwin.Caldwell at iit.it>  


Stream 2: Humanoid Robotics


Research in this area will focus on all areas of hardware and to a lesser extent software development for humanoid robots. The research will involve the development of novel actuators, high dexterity end-effectors that will link with the haptics/telepresence research, novel tactile sensing, the use of new structures and materials and self healing, and self repair.



Theme 3.6: Human Friendly Actuation Technologies

Tutor: Dr Nikos Tsagarakis, Dr Bram Vanderbroght

N. of available positions: 1


Robot actuation has been traditionally based on the use of heavy, stiff position/velocity and torque actuation units coupled with rigid non back-drivable transmission mechanisms. These stiff actuation groups are usually implemented by combining DC-Brushed or Brushless or AC drives with planetary or Harmonic Drive Gears and/or timing belts with a high gain PD control. These robots are optimised for precision and speed and are highly repeatable, acting within constrained and well defined environments. 

Recently, with the introduction of new applications domain such as virtual/tele-presence, robot aided therapy/assistance, humanoids and personal/entertainment robotics and augmentation systems it has become increasingly clear that the traditional actuation approach is not suitable for addressing the performance requirements of these new application domains. The requirement for closer human-robot interaction have highlighted the need for robotic systems which can match the performance of biological systems in terms of ability to regulate displacements and impedance over a wide range of loads and motions enabling control of acceleration and force for enhanced performance, safe interaction and energy efficient task execution. These are key developmental features of all new generation systems. In fact, these requirements are directly linked to the actuation system. The lack of such an actuator unit that can mimic some of the properties of the natural muscle is probably one of the most significant barriers that prevented so far the development of robotic systems exhibiting bio-natural functional behaviour and performance. This limitation of the current actuation technologies is the inspiration for the research which will focus on the:

*     Development of new biologically (in terms of functional behaviour) based actuation units to form the motion/force (impedance) sources for the new range of robots. 

*     Investigation of appropriate materials and mechanisms (fluidic and nonlinear compliant components, smart materials such Electro/Magneto-rheological fluids) to be used for the implementation of the variable stiffness, variable damping or full impedance regulation principles.

*     Exploration of how these adjustable impedance principles can be embedded into the design of a conventional engineered actuator unit (electric/fluidic drives) from the mechanism point of view. To design and produce this new range of actuator groups in a compact volume without deteriorating beneficial performance attributes found on conventionally mechatronic actuators (i.e. high power to weight/volume ratio, high force to weight/volume ratio, fast response and good position and force control).

*     Development of control techniques of the new range of actuation units and demonstrate their application in the development of a lower body for a humanoid robot.

Applicants for this area are should ideally possess a strong background in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or physical system modelling and control. 

<mailto:nikos.tsagarakis at iit.it>  



Theme 3.7: Bipedal Walking for the Humanoid Robot "iCub" 

Tutors: Dr Bram Vanderbroght and Dr Nikos Tsagarakis

N. available positions: 1


The humanoid robot "iCub" has been constructed within the European consortium RobotCub. The legs have 12DOF and are powered by electrical motors. In the first stage of system walking traditional control schemes will be implemented consisting of a trajectory generator and stabilizer. In the second phase stretched knee walking and the use of the toe-joint to make bigger steps will be studied. The last phase of the project consists of changing the hardware of the legs to implement compliant actuation and to adapt the control schemes to make benefit of the compliance regarding improved energy efficiency and adaptability regarding different terrains.

Applicants should ideally possess a strong background in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science  or physical system modelling and control. 

<mailto:bram.vanderborght at iit.it>  



Theme 3.8: Safe manipulation using compliant actuation

Tutor: Dr Irene Sardellitti and Dr Bram Vanderbroght 

N. available positions: 1


The next generation of robotic manipulators will operate out of their safety cages and in close proximity with humans. Safety hence becomes the primary concern in these devices. Passive compliant actuation is the key for safe human-robot interaction, but control schemes controlling both torque and stiffness of every actuator to combine good tracking performances under a desired safety index are still missing. A manipulator actuated with adaptable compliant actuators developed by IIT will be built. In the first stage the torque/stiffness needs to be controlled to safely track desired trajectories. In a second phase the manipulator will be controlled without the use of control elements as joysticks, but the user will directly manipulate the load which has to be sensed by the manipulator. Preferable a strategy should be developed without using sensory information from torque/force sensors.

Applicants should ideally possess a strong background in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science  or physical system modelling and control. 

<mailto:irene.sardellitti at iit.it>  



Stream 3: Biomimetics

This area will consider the development of hardware, software and sensory systems for biological inspired robotic systems.



Theme 3.9: Bio-natural Functional Locomotion Systems and Physical Principles

Tutor: Prof Darwin G Caldwell  

N. of available positions: 1


A hydraulically actuated quadruped robot (called HyQ) is currently being developed with the aim to study compact hydraulic actuation systems for legged robots and their control incorporating aspects of active/ passive joint stiffness regulation for energy efficient animal locomotion. This will including jumping and running. Furthermore the robot will serve as a platform to test compact power systems as an alternative to batteries (petrol/gas combustion engines, fuel cells, etc) to make future robots power-autonomous for several hours. 

The final version of the robot will have the following estimated specifications: weight 70-80 kg (including 10kg payload), height less than 1m, four legs with three degrees of freedom each, hydraulic actuation systems, position and force sensing on joint level, compliance in joints.

The anatomical design of the legs has been inspired by the morphology of biological systems. The specifications for actuator performance result from dynamic simulations. A first prototype leg has been constructed and its performance is currently being tested.


Positions are open to work on the development of energy efficient animal-leg mechanical systems which emulate the biological systems not only from the morphology point of view but also exhibit bio-natural functional behaviour and performance. This will include the development of actuation techniques allowing this behaviour to be simulated.  The ability to passively regulate the impedance of the actuator will be the key feature of the actuation units.

The first position will consider the locomotion of the robot. After studying different animal gaits such as walk, trot and gallop, dynamic simulations will test stability and efficiency of different control algorithms and motion generators. Successful control methods will finally be tested and improved on the robot platform. The second position will focus on the mechanical design of the robot (CAD), including the hydraulic actuation system, adjustable stiffness mechanisms and eventually compact power systems. 


Applicants for this area are should ideally possess a strong background in electronic/electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, or a physical science.  

<mailto:Darwin.Caldwell at iit.it>  





Theme 3.10: Development of water hydraulic components and systems for robotics

Tutors: Dr Yang Yousheng

N. available positions: 1


Water hydraulics, which uses water instead of oil as the power transmitting medium, is environmentally friendly, non-flammable, inexpensive, clean, readily available, and easily disposable. More importantly, when compared to oil hydraulics, water hydraulics has a quicker response and a higher efficiency. In addition, it is more stable (in terms of flow velocity and efficiency) over a wide range of operating temperatures due to water's higher bulk modulus, a lower viscosity and a higher specific heat capacity. All the above mentioned advantages make water hydraulics appealing in high performance actuation techniques such as robotics.However, water (as opposed to oil) is more prone to cavitation, poor lubrication, has higher leakage and requires appropriate material and design. 

The aim of the PhD project is to develop water hydraulic components and systems for robotic actuation. The position will focus on the development of compact, small size and light weight water hydraulic components, including modelling, simulation, prototyping, experiment.

The candidate should ideally have a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering or related areas. The candidates must have good writing and communication skills. Ideal candidates should have experience in fluid dynamics, and have programming skills in C or Fortran. Experience with ProE, Fluent, Adams or AMESim would be a benefit but are not essential.

<mailto:yousheng.yang at iit.it>  



Theme 3.11: Autonomous Robotic Propulsion 

Tutors: Dr Emanuele Guglielmino 

N. available positions: 1


The aim of the project is the design of an efficient and compact propulsion system (using conventional thermal engines, fuel cells, Stirling engines, electrical motors, hybrid solutions etc) in autonomous robots. The work will focus on the integration of conventional and non-conventional engines and motors into autonomous robots (in particular on a hydraulically actuated quadruped robot, Hy-Q) using  a systems engineering approach.

The candidate should ideally have a good first degree in mechanical engineering (with major in thermal engines) or an equivalent physical science. 

<mailto:emanuele.guglielmino at iit.it>  



Theme 3.12 Actuation and Power Systems

Tutor: Prof Darwin Caldwell

N. available positions: 1

Actuation systems, power sources and storage of energy are vital and often overlooked features of robotic and humanoid systems. Researchers working in this area will explore novel actuation technology (braided pneumatic Muscle Actuators, Polymeric actuators, Shape Memory Alloys, compliant and hybrid actuation) and the enhancement of current technologies (hydraulics, ER Fluids, MR Fluids, piezoelectric motors).  The actuation systems will be incorporated into a new generation of robots having the structure, characteristics and behaviour of humans, hominoids, and/or animals. 


Previous experience with these technologies would be an advantage but the programme is open to researchers with a strong background in any physical science or engineering discipline.  

<mailto:Darwin.Caldwell at iit.it>  


Stream 4: Medical Robotics


Theme 3.13: Integrated microfluidic devices for biomanipulations

Tutor: Dr Leonardo Mattos

No. of available positions: 1


The development of sciences such as genetics, drug discovery and environmental health has been greatly increasing the demand for biomanipulation procedures.  Transgenic and gene-target animals, for example, are commonly used as models of a wide range of serious human afflictions, including diabetes, arteriosclerosis, hypertension, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer.  As a consequence, the demand for efficient and consistent biomanipulations has also increased.  These are very delicate operations, which are traditionally performed on clear Petri dishes placed under a powerful microscope and using mechanical micromanipulators.  The equipment employed is bulky and expensive, and the training of operators is often a very long process - up to one year for operations such as embryo microinjections.  In addition, the success rate and consistency of biomanipulation procedures are highly affected by the experience and mood of the operators.  Therefore, automation is highly desired in this area.

The development of novel microfluidic systems has a great potential to simplify and miniaturize the biomanipulation equipment, improve task consistency, and create a more suitable system for computer controlled operations.  Hence, the topic of research will involve the identification of microfabrication techniques suitable for the construction of microfluidic devices for cell work under (or off) the microscope; the design and construction of devices for the different biomanipulation tasks; and the development of computer interfaces and controllers for the novel devices.  The ideal candidate should have a background on engineering or computer science and a strong attitude towards mixing theory and practice.  Experience in robotics, biological systems or real-time systems are additional bonuses.

<mailto:leonardo.demattos at iit.it>  



Theme 3.14: Computer Vision for Automated Biomanipulations

Tutor: Dr Leonardo Mattos

No. of available positions: 1


The advent of high-precision motorized micromanipulators and microscopes incorporating video cameras has enabled the creation of effective teleoperated biomanipulation systems.  The use of such systems has demonstrated increased consistency and efficiency of the operations, and also a significant reduction in the training time of new operators.  However, these teleoperated systems still require direct control by a well-trained operator, so the biomanipulations are still susceptible to operator errors and to the inconsistency of manual operations.  In addition, many biomanipulation tasks are repetitive and time consuming, so the operators spend valuable working hours performing tedious procedures.  Consequently, the automation of biomanipulation procedures is highly desired. 

A key element for the development of a successful automated biomanipulation system is a fast and robust vision system.  Such system should be able to localize and track the objects involved in the tasks, and to provide such information as feedback to automatic controllers.  Therefore, the topic of research will involve the design of accurate, robust, and fast vision algorithms for biomanipulation applications. The ideal candidate should have a background on computer science or engineering and a strong attitude towards mixing theory and practice.

<mailto:leonardo.demattos at iit.it>  



Theme 3.15: Intelligent Controllers for Biomanipulation Automation

Tutor: Dr Leonardo Mattos

No. of available positions: 1


The automation of biomanipulation procedures is expected to facilitate and speedup biomedical research by improving the consistency and efficiency of the operations, and by reducing contaminations.  Furthermore, automation is expected to free laboratory personnel from repetitive and tedious tasks; reduce training costs associated with the operations; and reduce the dependency of biomanipulation facilities on individual operators.  However, the success of an automated system is always linked to an efficient and robust control system, which is not easily implemented for biomanipulation tasks because they are often very complex and delicate.  The development of rule-based automatic controllers requires extensive process analysis and, even then, may be susceptible to exception errors in complex tasks.

The use of machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques may offer an alternative for the development of robust and flexible control systems for biomanipulations.  An interesting approach to this problem would be, for example, the development of an intelligent system that can learn tasks by observing expert operators.  Another approach could be the development of simulators from which intelligent controllers can be developed.  Therefore, the topic of research will involve the investigation of online or offline learning methods applied to the generation of automatic system controllers.  Experimentation will be performed in collaboration with the IIT's Neuroscience Department, and will be based on the available fully teleoperated biomanipulation system.  The ideal candidate should have a background on computer science or engineering and a strong attitude towards mixing theory and practice.  Experience in A.I. and robotics are additional bonuses.

<mailto:leonardo.demattos at iit.it>  

N.G.Tsagarakis, PhD
Senior Researcher
Department of Advanced Robotics 
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT-Genova)
Via Morego 30
16163 Genova
Tel: +39 010 71781 428
Fax: +39 010 720321 

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