PhD Opportunities in Embodied Emotion, Cognition, and Interaction in Autonomous Robots

PhD studentship are available, with an application deadline of 18 June 2017. Applications must be sent to Mrs Lorraine Nicholls, l.nicholls @ (please include l.canamero @ in Cc), Tel: 01707 286083. Application forms can be downloaded here. Please note that you must download the application form to your computer before you complete it. If you try to complete the form in the browser window, the information you have entered might be lost when the form is saved.

Applications are invited from excellent candidates with good first degrees in computer science, electronic engineering, physics, maths, biology, neuroscience or other relevant disciplines to work as research students, for a three year period, in Lola Cañamero's Embodied Emotion, Cognition, and (Inter-)Action Lab. Projects are available regarding various aspects of Embodied Emotion, Cognition, and (Inter-)Action in Autonomous Robots, from a biologically-inspired embodied perspective that emphasizes and models the roles that the body and physical and social interaction play in affect-cognition, primarily in (but not limited to) the areas listed below.

A limited number of studentships are available for exceptional candidates (approximately 14,550 per annum bursary plus the payment of the student fees). Applicants from outside the UK or EU are eligible.


Emotional (Hormonal) Modulation of Cognition-Action Loops: The Dynamics of Behavior Control

In biological systems, emotions are part of the bioregulatory mechanisms that contribute to the maintenance of the stability of the internal environment needed to survive in changing (external) environments. They do so by acting on (modulating) the global 'state' of the organism, including bodily state and cognition-action interactions. This project proposes to investigate similar types of regulatory systems for robots. Research will be conducted into the adaptive value of different affective phenomena to modulate and control the behavior and interactions of autonomous robots in physical and social environments. Suitable mechanisms and architectures underlying such affective phenomena will be investigated and implemented, taking inspiration from theories and findings from disciplines such as affective and cognitive neuroscience, biology, ethology, developmental psychology, and the psychology of emotion. This research will have a strong component of experimentation and testing using robotic scenarios and suitable methods for quantitative and qualitative analysis of results.

Developmental Robotics: Affective Systems in Development

Developmental or "epigenetic" robotics is an area that investigates how different mechanisms underlying the behavior of robots can "grow" as a consequence of their interactions with the physical and social environment, allowing robots to acquire new cognitive and behavioral capabilities in ways that are akin to the development of intelligent behavior in biological systems. A challenging (and as yet largely unexplored) topic within this area is the study of the relationships between emotional and cognitive development, and in particular how affective mechanisms influence the development of cognitive and behavioral mechanisms and skills. In robotics, one of the possible projects along this line would investigate the influence of affective mechanisms in the development of neural controllers for autonomous mobile robots.

The Evolution of Emotions and their Expression in Autonomous Agents and Robots

Emotions and their expression are key components of social interactions in humans and other animals, serving as mechanisms for communication, signaling, directing attention, motivating and controlling interactions, assessing situations, etc. As put forward by Darwin, they also play a number of survival- related functions: for example, anger energizes and prepares the body for action, fear enhances features that permit to escape from predators and other dangers, etc. Both aspects are relevant for autonomous and social robots that must inhabit and survive in dynamic environments presenting similar kinds of challenges, particularly the natural environments of humans.

From the perspective of evolution, emotions can be regarded as adaptive mechanisms that arose to better face significant survival-related events that recurred in evolutionary history. Artificial life and robotics can contribute to the understanding of how our emotions became what they currently are by simulating in computers and robots how they could have evolved under different environmental conditions and in response to various evolutionary pressures. Different projects could be developed within this general theme, depending on the background and interests of the candidate. The projects would investigate, in an artificial life environment and ideally also using physical robots, the evolution of a subset of emotion-related systems and (expressive) behaviors as a function of diverse evolutionary pressures, putting particular emphasis on social interaction and dynamics. Another aspect that would be of particular interest involves the interactions between the evolution (at the level of the specie) and the development (at the level of individuals) of emotional systems.

This topic will be investigated in collaboration with Prof. Chrystopher Nehaniv of the Adaptive Systems Research Group

The Dynamics of Affect-Based Relationships in Social Groups

Social animals can have very complex social relations and structures. Some of them are somewhat rigid, based on "family" and ''dominance'' relations. Others form in a more dynamic way, based on the history of (positive and negative) affect-based interactions among individuals, or as emergent phenomena in social situations (e.g., phenomena such as emotional contagion). The proposed project would involve building artificial societies (simulated and possibly robotic) as tools to study how some of these relations and phenomena can develop and affect social dynamics on the grounds of a few relevant parameters that can be varied and analyzed in different ways.

Olfactory systems and affect

Olfaction is thought to be a sensory modality closely related to affect in many animal species, including humans. We propose to investigate different roles (and supporting underlying mechanisms) that olfaction can play in the evolution, development and adaptive value of simple affective states, both in the individual and in groups (e.g. via pheromones). Projects around this theme will be developed either in simulations or in robots, depending on the topic and the availability of suitable platforms.

This topic will be investigated in collaboration with Dr Volker Steuber, head of the Biocomputation Research Group

Funding and application process

A limited number of studentships are available for exceptional candidates (approximately 14,250 per annum bursary plus the payment of the student fees). Applicants from outside the UK or EU are eligible. The application form can be found here.

Please note that you must download the application form to your computer before you complete it. If you try to complete the form in the browser window, the information you have entered might be lost when the form is saved.

Completed application forms should be returned by email to Mrs Lorraine Nicholls, Research Student Administrator, STRI, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts, AL10 9AB, Tel: 01707 286083, L.Nicholls @ Applications should also include two references and transcripts of previous academic degrees.

The SHORTLISTING process for studentship applications will start on 19th June 2017.

Research in Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire has been recognized as excellent by the latest Research Assessment Exercise, with 50% of the research submitted being rated as world leading or internationally excellent. The Centre for Computer Science and Informatics Research (CCSIR), where our PhD students are based, provides a very stimulating environment, offering a large number of specialized and interdisciplinary seminars as well as general training or researcher development opportunities. The University of Hertfordshire is situated in Hatfield, just north of London.

We accept applications for self-funded PhDs throughout the year.