(Self)-Aware Robots for Tool Creation


Job description

The METATOOL project is a groundbreaking international and multidisciplinary project that aims at developing a novel computational model of cognition based on predictive processing (metacognition) and validating its utility in real robots in the context of conditional sequential tasks (tool use) and tool creation.

We are looking for an enthusiastic team player to unravel the impact of awareness in the evolution of tool use and tool making. The project consists of two parts:

  1. The design of the theoretical foundations of a consistent model of tool creation based on awareness, with the neuroscience, cognition and AI experts of the university of Sussex, Radboud University and Universidad Politecnica de Madrid;
  2. The validation of the model by teaching a robot how to create tools the way our ancestors did, with the experts in robotics in Madrid and Delft.

As a project PhD candidate, you will contribute to the hybrid cognitive architecture for awareness developed in the project, and set up and carry out experimental protocols for testing the impact of awareness in tool use and tool-making amongst ancient humans and robots.

You will be collaborating closely with researchers at Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and Radboud University, and travelling to those and other partner institutions in the METATOOL project is required for project meetings and collaborations. You will work in close partnership with the TUD METATOOL archaeology PhD.


  • Perform literature studies on the modelling of manipulation behaviours and the cognitive skills that drive them, and on the notion of functional awareness and its implications with tool use and tool making in robotics and evolutionary settings;
  • Develop a novel contribution integrating the METATOOL models of awareness developed by other partners in the symbolic framework* developed by TUD team, and operationalize it in a hybrid cognitive architecture for robotic manipulation.
  • Design and carry out simulated and real robotic tool-making experiments with the hybrid architecture to understand what cognitive skills are required when making the earliest tools we know of, and validate the METATOOL models of awareness;

Other tasks include:

  • (Co) authoring scientific articles and thesis.
  • Student supervision and teaching.

Note: TUD team will develop the METATOOL conceptual framework from a domain ontology for tool behaviors that is the result of a previous project: see http://rocaontology.github.io/


Required qualifications and qualities:

  • MA/MSc in: AI, Robotics, or an adjacent field with a significant background on symbolic methods in AI and/or knowledge representation and reasoning.
  • Capacity of conducting academic literature research.
  • Proven ability to finish projects on time.
  • Excellent communication skills in English (written and spoken).
  • Ability to work in an open, cooperative, multidisciplinary team.

Desired qualifications and qualities:

  • Interest in at least one of the following: cognitive science, archaeology, philosophy, neuroscience.
  • Experience with practical robotics projects and ROS (for example by controlling a robot arm or a moving robot) or willingness to train during the PhD.
  • Experience with scripting, programming, with regards to planning in robotics (PDDL, Prolog, Python or another scripting language).
  • Interest/experience in simulation environments for robotics testing such as Gazebo.
  • Willingness to travel to Madrid, Spain for the robotics experiments.
  • Willingness to attend Summer schools in the project’s topics if needed.

Personal development

You will specialize in symbolic representations of actions and plans and robotics manipulators. When you graduate you will have a diverse interdisciplinary network that includes roboticists, neuroscientists, and archaeologists. 
You are encouraged to develop your own (current) expertise/interest further within the METATOOL project.
In collaboration with the project partners, you will receive (additional) ROS (Robot Operating System) training. During your contract you will be part of the 3mE Graduate School (more information below). There are opportunities to guest lecture in existing BA and MSc courses, and you are expected to supervise MSc students.

Note : We know that it is highly unlikely that one person can meet all these requirements. When in doubt about your suitability: apply.  

Doing a PhD at TU Delft requires English proficiency at a certain level to ensure that the candidate is able to communicate and interact well, participate in English-taught Doctoral Education courses, and write scientific articles and a final thesis. For more details please check the Graduate Schools Admission Requirements.

Conditions of employment

Doctoral candidates will be offered a 4-year period of employment in principle, but in the form of 2 employment contracts. An initial 1,5 year contract with an official go/no go progress assessment within 15 months. Followed by an additional contract for the remaining 2,5 years assuming everything goes well and performance requirements are met.

Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2541 per month in the first year to € 3247 in the fourth year. As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. The TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment with an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor. The Doctoral Education Programme is aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills.

The TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, discounts on health insurance and sport memberships, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged. For international applicants we offer the Coming to Delft Service and Partner Career Advice to assist you with your relocation.

TU Delft (Delft University of Technology)

Delft University of Technology is built on strong foundations. As creators of the world-famous Dutch waterworks and pioneers in biotech, TU Delft is a top international university combining science, engineering and design. It delivers world class results in education, research and innovation to address challenges in the areas of energy, climate, mobility, health and digital society. For generations, our engineers have proven to be entrepreneurial problem-solvers, both in business and in a social context.

At TU Delft we embrace diversity as one of our core values and we actively engage to be a university where you feel at home and can flourish. We value different perspectives and qualities. We believe this makes our work more innovative, the TU Delft community more vibrant and the world more just. Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale. That is why we invite you to apply. Your application will receive fair consideration.

Challenge. Change. Impact!

Faculty Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering

The Faculty of 3mE carries out pioneering research, leading to new fundamental insights and challenging applications in the field of mechanical engineering. From large-scale energy storage, medical instruments, control technology and robotics to smart materials, nanoscale structures and autonomous ships. The foundations and results of this research are reflected in outstanding, contemporary education, inspiring students and PhD candidates to become socially engaged and responsible engineers and scientists. The faculty of 3mE is a dynamic and innovative faculty with an international scope and high-tech lab facilities. Research and education focus on the design, manufacture, application and modification of products, materials, processes and mechanical devices, contributing to the development and growth of a sustainable society, as well as prosperity and welfare.

Click here to go to the website of the Faculty of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering. Do you want to experience working at our faculty? This video will introduce you to some of our researchers and their work.

Additional information

The METATOOL project is funded through the European Innovation Council (EIC) with Pathfinder grant. Project partners are located across Europe: Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Radboud University, Humboldt University Berlin, University of Sussex, Delft University of Technology, PAL Robotics and Senta BV. In this project we  aim to provide a computational model of synthetic awareness to enhance adaptation and achieve tool invention. This will enable a robot to monitor and self-evaluate its performance, ground and reuse this information for adapting to new circumstances, and finally unlock the possibility of creating new tools. Under the predictive account of awareness, and based on both neuroscientific and archaeological evidence, we will: 1) develop a novel computational model of metacognition based on predictive processing (metaprediction) and 2) validate its utility in real robots in two use case scenarios: conditional sequential tasks and tool creation. 

The TU Delft team comprises of two project investigators (Dr Carlos Hernandez Corbato and Dr Geeske Langejans), two PhD candidates (one on robotics and one on archaeology) and one postdoc (Dr Pierre Mercuriali, bridging robotics and archaeology). You will be based in Delft at the Department of  Cognitive Robotics, in close collaboration with the Department for Material Science Engineering . Your daily supervisor is Dr Carlos Hernandez Corbato. You are expected to travel to Spain at least once during your PhD project.

Application procedure

Are you interested in this vacancy? Please apply by 28 August 2022 via the application button and upload a letter of motivation, CV, contact details of three referees, two examples of written work (e.g. thesis, essay, published paper), and one A4 paper with an outline of your approach to this project, i.e. the methodology and scope of -data collection, -data deposition and planning for this project.

First interviews will take place on 8 and 9 September 2022 with a possible second round on September 13. Note that invited candidates will be requested to give a short presentation. Start date: as soon as possible from 1 October 2022.

A pre-employment screening can be part of the selection procedure.

You can apply online. We will not process applications sent by email and/or post.

Acquisition in response to this vacancy is not appreciated.


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截止日期 2022-08-28




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