PhD Position in Embodied Intelligence for Soft Robots
Catholic University of Leuven Department of Mechanical Engineering

The Manufacturing Processes and Systems (MaPS) division of the Department of Mechanical Engineering is looking for a doctoral researcher to join the Soft Robotics section of the Micro and Precision engineering group, headed by prof. Dominiek Reynaerts. The group has a long-track record in designing and manufacturing soft pneumatic micro-actuators for biomedical and microfluidic applications. The PhD candidate will investigate novel designs of elastic actuators featuring nonlinear characteristics and implement them in robotic systems. The particular design of the actuators gives these robots a form of mechanical intelligence so they can accomplish complex tasks with a minimum of software control, leading to small, cheap and safe robots for medical applications, search and rescue etc. This position is in the framework of the FWO project “Enhancing morphological computation in soft robots through elastic structural instabilities”, funded by the Flemish Science Foundation.


Artificial intelligence drastically changed the way robotic systems interact with their environment, giving life-like properties to artificial entities. However, these intelligent robots still struggle to perform in unstructured and unpredictable environments when they need to for example navigate unstable terrain, grasp arbitrary objects or interact with humans. This is due to their general architecture, a combination of rigid links and localized actuators that are controlled by a central controller. Such a controller needs an adequate model of the environment to work, but many real world situations are hard to model.

In biological systems, control is more distributed throughout the body, where some sort of computation is performed by the organism’s ‘hardware’, which is generally known as embodied intelligence. Whereas in humans cognitive intelligence dominates, other organisms such as amoebae or plants almost exclusively rely on this embodied intelligence to survive. Their particular shape and material composition allows them to take advantage of intrinsic physics to interact with their environment. Mechanical nonlinearities are a key ingredient in achieving embodied intelligence. While they are absent from traditional rigid robots, geometric, structural and material nonlinearities abound in soft robots made of elastomeric materials, which makes them ideal candidates to develop this form of bio-inspired artificial intelligence.

This project aims at designing soft robots with intelligent functions that are not encoded in the algorithm of a controller, but are coming from soft mechanisms embedded in the hardware of the robot. By harnessing mechanical nonlinearities, in the form of elastic instabilities, the goal is to create inflatable robots that are able to adapt their functionality based on triggers from the environment. The focus will be both on theoretical modelling with simulations and on hands-on exploration with considerable efforts towards the fabrication of the nonlinear building blocks and the integration in prototype soft robotic systems with novel functionalities.


The ideal candidate fulfils the following requirements:

  • Master degree in (mechanical) engineering, physics, materials science or equivalent with distinction
  • Strong background in solid mechanics, fluid dynamics, and manufacturing
  • Familiar with Matlab, Labview, CAD softwares and Finite Element modelling
  • Proficiency in English according to
  • Innovative and entrepreneurial mindset


Starting as soon as possible. The PhD position lasts for the duration of four years, and is carried out at the University of Leuven. During this time, the candidate also takes up a limited amount (approx. 10% of the time) of teaching activities. We strongly encourage international mobility during the PhD. For more info on salary etc., see:


To apply, use the KU Leuven online application platform (applications by email are not considered). Please include:

a) an academic CV and a PDF of your diplomas and transcript of course work and grades

b) a statement of research interests and career goals, indicating why you are interested in this position

c) a sample of technical writing, e.g. a paper with you as main author, or your masterthesis

d) two recommendation letters

e) some proof of proficiency in English (e.g. language test results from TOEFL, IELTS,CAE, or CPE)

Please send your application as soon as possible.

Decision: as soon as a suitable candidate applies.

Starting Date: immediate start is possible. Start preferably before October 1st, 2020

You can apply for this job no later than August 31, 2020 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: August 31, 2020
  • Tags: Werktuigkunde

If you apply for this position please say you saw it on Engineeroxy


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