Netherlands: PhD position on Automatic analysis of conversations in human-robot interactions at University of Twente

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Job description

The Human Media Interaction group at the University of Twente is looking for a PhD candidate who will automatically analyse conversations based on the speakers’ nonverbal vocal behaviors. The aims are to automatically determine the quality of social interaction between the speakers (both in dialogues and multi-party conversations) and the speakers’ affective states. Qualitative aspects of social interaction include, amongst others, levels of engagement, cooperation, enjoyableness, valence and rapport.

The work will be carried out within the contexts of two European projects involving robots, namely TERESA and SQUIRREL. In the TERESA project, a telepresence robot is controlled by a human controller who can have robot-mediated conversations with other humans in the vicinity of the robot. In order to know whether a specific speaker attitude is caused by the robot’s or the human controller’s behavior, an assessment of the interaction is needed. The challenges are to give a continuous assessment of the quality of interaction under natural conditions, and to find out what nonverbal vocal cues can be used to detect qualitative aspects of social interaction. In the SQUIRREL project, children will be interacting with a robot that aims to encourage and help them tidy up and put objects back in order. In order to design effective robot behaviors that encourage and help children tidy up, an assessment of the interaction among the children and the robot is needed: is the interaction fun, are the children engaged in the task, is one of the children left out in the interaction?

The work will cover a range of various tasks:

* The candidate will collect speech data by recording social interactions between adult humans (French) and among children (German) and robots. (S)he will develop and manage audio(visual) databases of these recorded interactions.

* The candidate will perform analyses on the nonverbal vocal behavior of the recorded interactions. The candidate will investigate what types of qualitative and affective aspects of social interaction are relevant in this context and annotations will be made. (S)he will identify relevant nonverbal vocal cues that correlate with qualitative and affective aspects of social interaction.

* Based on these annotations, the candidate will develop algorithms to automatically assess qualitative and affective aspects of social interaction, both in human adult and children speech.

* The candidate is expected to present his/her work in major (international) conferences and workshops, and to publish in relevant journals.


* The candidate should have fluent command of English as a written and spoken language. Since the candidate will be working with Dutch, French and German data, knowledge of these languages is preferable.

* The candidate has an MSc degree in Computer Science or equivalent (a degree with a technical background, e.g., Artificial Intelligence, Computational Linguistics).

* The candidate is interested in the research fields of speech analysis, social signal processing, and machine learning.

* The candidate has programming skills in one of the following languages (or equivalents): Python, Perl, or Matlab.

The expected starting date is around December 2013. Further information about the PhD position can be given by Prof. Dr. Vanessa Evers (email: and Dr. Khiet Truong (

Conditions of employment

We offer a full-time PhD position in a dynamic and international environment. The expected starting date is 1 December 2013. The duration of the contract is four years. The gross salary will range from € 2.083,00 in the first year to € 2.664,00 per month in the fourth year. Additionally, the University of Twente provides excellent facilities for professional and personal development. In addition, we offer a holiday allowance (amounts to 8%) and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3% and a number of additional benefits. The labor agreements are in accordance with the CAO-NU for Dutch universities.


The University of Twente. We stand for life sciences and technology. High tech and human touch. Education and research that matter. New technology which drives change, innovation and progress in society. The University of Twente is the only campus university in the Netherlands; divided over six faculties we provide more than fifty educational programmes. The University of Twente has a strong focus on personal development and talented researchers are given scope for carrying out pioneering research.

The faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EEMCS) comprises three disciplines that shape Information and Communication Technology. ICT is more than communication. In almost every product we use mathematics, electronics and computer technology and ICT now contributes to all of societies’ activities. The faculty works together intensively with industrial partners and researchers in the Netherlands and abroad and conducts extensive research for external commissioning parties and funders. The research which enjoys a high profile both at home and internationally, has been accommodated in the multidisciplinary research institutes MESA+, CTIT and MIRA.

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