Robotics & Autonomous Systems CDT

Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh are jointly offering an innovative 4 year PhD training programme, drawing on our extensive experience with postgraduate teaching and research supervision in the area of robotics and autonomous systems. This will provide individually tailored course and project portfolios taken during the first year of the programme that ensures all students will have a strong general grounding in current theory, methods and applications, with flexibility for strategic individualised study, and strong support leading to a specialised PhD project.

Robots will revolutionise the world's economy and society over the next twenty years, working for us, beside us and interacting with us. The UK urgently needs graduates with the technical skills and industry awareness to create an innovation pipeline from academic research to global markets. Key application areas include manufacturing, assistive and medical robots, offshore energy, environmental monitoring, search and rescue, defence, and support for the ageing population. The robotics and autonomous systems area has been highlighted by the UK Government in 2013 as one the 8 Great Technologies that underpin the UK's Industrial Strategy for jobs and growth.

The essential challenge can be characterised as how to obtain successful interactions. Robots must interact physically with environments, requiring compliant manipulation, active sensing, world modelling and planning. Robots must interact with each other, making collaborative decisions between multiple, decentralised, heterogeneous robotic systems to achieve complex tasks.

Robots must interact with people in smart spaces, taking into account human perception mechanisms, shared control, affective computing and natural multi-modal interfaces. Robots must introspect for condition monitoring, prognostics and health management, and long term persistent autonomy including validation and verification. Finally, success in all these interactions depend on engineering enablers, including architectural system design, novel embodiment, micro and nano-sensors, and embedded multi-core computing.

The emerging Robotics and Autonomous Systems market is estimated to be €15.5 billion euro globally. This market is created because users of autonomous and robotic systems will be able to reduce risk, reduce cost, increase profit and protect the environment.

To find out more see the Edinburgh Robotics website.

Why study with the centre?

Centre graduates will be grounded in fundamental RAS topics and acquire advanced specialist scientific knowledge of crucial interaction themes. They will be skilled at teamwork, with a broader appreciation of RAS ethical issues. They will have international contacts and experience, with public presentation experience. Most importantly, they will be Innovation Ready – skilled in the principles of how technical and commercial disruption occurs, understanding how finance and organisation realise new products and services in start-up, SME and corporate situations.

The Centre will realise scientific advances, e.g. greater understanding of AI vs biomimetic approaches to persistent autonomy, advanced empathetic multimodal interaction between people and machines in smart spaces, advanced robotic micro-sensing and computing in soft embodiments, adaptive compliant actuation at a multitude of scales and form factors, semantic understanding of environments from noisy sensor data and more. Not only the advances, but also the research methods and practice to achieve them will be realised, e.g. hardware-in-the-loop architectures for re-usability and easy, low cost experimentation. The impact of these advances will be enhanced by strongly supported opportunities for dissemination, including conference presentations and publications (and training in presentation and writing skills), reciprocal secondments with Associate Research Partners, international student robot competitions, public outreach activities, CDT hosted international researcher visitors and workshops.

Robotic and autonomous systems decrease cost and risk, increasing productivity while removing human operators from the ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ tasks across the industries of our User Partners. Centre graduates and technology will contribute to maintaining UK business competitiveness and exports in this emerging €15.5 billion market, whilst improving quality of life for example a) more interesting (and prestigious) day-to-day employment for workers, b) assisted healthcare for an ageing population (including the Centre Directors), and c) greater awareness of environmental impacts and changes leading to policy and legislation.

Applications and contacting us

For applications please use the application portal:. You should indicate your interest in undertaking a "research degree in Robotics and Autonomous Systems through the CDT".

Applications can be submitted via the Heriot-Watt online application form choosing "Robotics and Autonomous Systems, PhD" as your programme.

You should upload a CV, previous degree certificates and transcripts as well as references if you have them. If you do not have copies of your references, you should ask your referees to send their reference to

You should also provide a research proposal which should outline a clear scientific idea and include the following:

  • Title
  • Describe why your idea is worth pursuing
  • Outline how it has been approached previously
  • Describe what worked in that approach
  • Detail how you would approach your research topic
  • Demonstrate how this is different/better than any previous approach

As you may well change your research focus during your first year, it is important to note that the research proposal you submit at application stage may not necessarily be the one that you work on.

If you are applying for a particular industry project, please ensure that this is stated clearly in your application.

For general enquiries please see the Edinburgh Robotics website.

Key information

Robotics and Autonomous Systems Centre for Doctoral Training

+44 (0)131 451 3326

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