Two PhD positions in agri-food robotics

Published on
April 2, 2019
Location Wageningen
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We are looking for

Are you that enthusiastic researcher that likes to work on cutting-edge robotic technologies and apply them to improve processes in agriculture and food production?

Wageningen University is coordinating a large national program, FlexCRAFT: Cognitive Robots for Flexible Agri-Food Technology. Together with four other universities in the Netherlands, we aim to develop core-robotic technologies to allow robots to operate in agri-food environments.

The research challenge
Agri-food environments are very challenging for current robotic systems due to the high level of variation in the appearance and shape of natural objects, the uncontrolled illumination, and the complexity of the environments. Consider, for instance, a robot that needs to harvest tomatoes in a greenhouse. All tomatoes vary in shape and color, the illumination differs depending on the position of the sun and clouds, there are many plants closely packed together, and the fruits might be hard to find due to occlusions by leaves or other plants and fruits. Perception and action are very challenging and current robotic solutions do not meet the requirements of the industry.

The FlexCRAFT program will improve the state-of-the-art by developing new methods for (1) active perception, (2) probabilistic world modelling, (3) learning, planning and control, and (4) gripping and manipulation. These methods will be tested and evaluated in three use-cases: (a) harvesting, (b) food-processing, and (c) food packaging.

More information can be found on:
The two PhD positions
PhD1: This position focusses on the development of novel methods for active perception. By allowing a robot to move around in the environment to observe the scene from different viewpoints, the robot can build a more complete and more accurate representation of its environment. This allows a harvesting robot, for instance, to deal with occlusions and observe the tomato that is covered by a leaf. Moreover, the robot can use its arms to push the leaf aside. Your task is to develop methods to optimally plan actions in order to gain as much relevant information about the environment as possible.

PhD2: Many current robots are still based on the sense-think-act paradigm. This paradigm ignores the fact that sensing and action are tightly coupled and that an action immediately leads to new sensations. In this position, you will develop a novel predict-act-sense-compare paradigm, which is based on the skill to predict the consequences of an action. Based on the current estimation of the world state, the robot needs to learn to predict what will happen when it performs an action, a so-called forward model. This prediction can then be compared to the actual observation after performing the action. This allows the robot to continuously learn and improve the forward model. The forward model can then be used to improve the efficiency of perception, by using the sensory predictions and to plan future actions to perform tasks.

We ask

  • You are a motivated researcher holding a MSc in the area of robotics, artificial intelligence, machine vision, or a related field.
  • You have a proven track-record in developing methods for machine vision and/or state estimation implemented on a robot and have knowledge of probabilistic robotics and machine learning.
  • You are an independent research, but also enjoy the interaction and collaboration with other researchers.
  • You are motivated by the fact that the developed technologies will be taken out of the lab and into realistic agri-food environments.
  • We encourage female researchers to apply.
This position requires an excellent English language proficiency (a mininum of CEFR C1 level). For more information about this proficiency level, please visit our special language page.

We offer

  • A temporary contract for 48 months, gross salary per month € 2,325 in the first year for a fulltime appointment (38 hours per week).
  • 8% vacation allowance.
  • A fixed year-end bonus of 8,3%.
  • Excellent training opportunities and secondary employment conditions.
  • Flexible working hours and holidays can, in consultation with colleagues, be settled in such a way that an optimal balance between work and private life is possible.
  • An excellent pension scheme through ABP.
  • 232 holiday hours, with the possibility to purchase good additional leave arrangements.
  • A flexible model to arrange part of your employment conditions yourself, such as a bicycle plan.
  • Access to the sports facilities on campus for a small fee.
  • A fun and excellent research team with an international reputation in agricultural robotics and biosystems engineering, embedded in a life-science university.
  • A collaboration within the inter-disciplinary Dutch “FlexCRAFT” program, with participation of five Dutch Universities.
Wageningen University & Research stimulates internal growth opportunities and mobility with an active internal recruitment policy.

There are ample opportunities for own initiative in a learning environment. We offer a versatile position with varied activities in a dynamic, pleasant, international, and open work environment.

We are an equal opportunities employer and welcome applications from all suitably qualified persons regardless of their race, sex, disability, religion/belief, sexual orientation or age.

More information

For more information about this position, please contact Gert Kootstra at 0317 48 03 02 or
For more information about the application procedure, please contact Wendy Wisgerhof at 0317 48 09 71 or

You can apply up to and including April 29, 2019
For this position you can only apply online:

We are

The mission of Wageningen University & Research is “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. Within Wageningen University & Research, nine specialised research institutes from the Wageningen Research Foundation and Wageningen University have joined forces to help answer the most important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment.

With approximately 30 locations, 5,000 employees, and 10,000 students, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organisations in its domain worldwide. An integrated approach to problems and the cooperation between various disciplines are at the heart of the unique approach of Wageningen.

For further information about working at Wageningen University & Research, take a look at the special career site.

You will be employed at the Farm Technology (FTE) group at Wageningen University and Research. FTE has a long history in developing greenhouse robotics. You will work together with an experienced team of researchers in the area of machine vision, robotics and artificial intelligence. Within the Dutch “FlexCRAFT” consortium, you will join forces with the best robotic researchers that the Netherlands has to offer.

Apply now