Netherlands: PhD in Reinforcement Learning for Humanoid Robots at Delft University of Technology

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Job description

It is expected that humanoid robots will soon play a major role in the domain of service robots. They may become social companions that help in the household, take care of elderly people or entertain children, fly to space, or clean up disaster sites that are unsafe for humans to enter. All these tasks require advanced walking capabilities. Despite much research in this area, however, there is no humanoid robot yet that walks in such a stable, efficient, and versatile manner as humans. The claim of the KoroiBot project is that this problem does not only pertain to the current hardware. We argue that powerful self-learning software is needed to get the best possible walking capabilities out of the existing hardware.
One goal of the project is to enable humanoid robots to generate efficient and robust walking motions in a variety of situations based on model-predictive control algorithms. However, as the models represent an idealisation, walking will not be optimal on the actual hardware due to model differences. The applicant will work towards closing this reality gap through on-line reinforcement learning. By adapting both the model and the policy, and by starting with the model-based controller, we aim to quickly and continuously adapt to the actual hardware. In order to meet real-time constraints during the adaptation, we will use parallel reinforcement learning algorithms developed in our group.


Applicants should have a Master’s degree in a relevant engineering field, such as Computer Science, Electrical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering. Excellent programming skills, preferably in C++, are required. As you will be working on an international, multidisciplinary project, you will need good written and oral communication skills in English. Experience with robotics, especially walking robots, is a plus, as is experience with reinforcement learning.

Conditions of employment

TU Delft offers an attractive benefits package, including a flexible work week, free high-speed Internet access from home (with contracts of two years or longer), and the option of assembling a customised compensation and benefits package (the ‘IKA’). Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities.
As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment; an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor; and a Doctoral Education Programme aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills. Please for more information.

For more information about this position, please contact Wouter Caarls, e-mail: To apply, please e-mail a detailed CV, list of publications (if available), and contact details of three persons willing to provide reference letters, along with a letter of application by 15 November 2013 to Marjon Kole,
When applying for this position, please refer to vacancy number 3ME13-32.

Contract type: Temporary, 4 years


Delft University of Technology

Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) is a multifaceted institution offering education and carrying out research in the technical sciences at an internationally recognised level. Education, research and design are strongly oriented towards applicability. TU Delft develops technologies for future generations, focusing on sustainability, safety and economic vitality. At TU Delft you will work in an environment where technical sciences and society converge. TU Delft comprises eight faculties, unique laboratories, research institutes and schools.


Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering

Biomechanical Engineering is a research department at Delft University of Technology, located in the Faculty of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering (3ME). The Department of Biomechanical Engineering coordinates education and research activities in the field of Mechanical Engineering techniques such as modelling and design, to analyse the interaction between biological and technical systems.

In the Delft Biorobotics Lab, we develop biologically inspired robots, with a focus on humanoid robots. We believe that the future challenge for robotics lies in safe human-robot interaction. This implies a totally different set of design requirements compared to robots that work in structured environments such as factories: rather than high speeds and positioning accuracy, sensitivity (“tenderness”) and compliance are required. These challenges motivate us to study biology, not only as the environment that the robot must interact with, but also as a source of design inspiration.

Additional information

Wouter Caarls
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