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Centre for Power Transmission & Motion Control PhD project vacancies

We offer PhD studentships in analytical and experimental research into next-generation machine systems. Find out more about our projects and how to apply.

We offer fully-funded studentships, available on a competitive basis. Studentships include:

  • full tuition fees for UK citizens
  • tax-free maintenance allowance (stipend) for at least £15,285 a year

We have several research topics you could apply for a PhD studentship currently.


Actuation, sensing and control for Soft Robots

Supervisors: Dr Min Pan

Soft robots are defined as systems that use materials with elastic moduli similar to soft biological materials (10-4 to 10-9 Pa) and are capable of autonomous behaviour. They can actively interact with the environment, achieve large deformations and their mode of operation relies on their inherent structural compliance. This project aims to design novel soft pneumatic muscles with inherent sensing and locomotion capabilities to enable intelligent control of future soft robots.

Experimental flight dynamics

Supervisors: Dr Jon L du Bois, Dr David Cleaver, Dr Pejman Iravani

The proliferation of unmanned aircraft and the development of new urban air mobility vehicles are leading to a wide variety of novel aircraft platforms designed to operate at myriad scales and in diverse environments. New vehicle concepts from tiltrotors to cyclocopters need development and evaluation. There are a number of vacancies covering the development of control and stability strategies for these vehicle platforms and development of the testing methods to go with them including ground test rigs and dynamic wind tunnel capabilities.

Flexure coupling mechanisms for high performance robotics and automation

Supervisors: Dr Nicola Bailey, Professor Patrick Keogh

Many automated processes depend upon fast, repeatable and precisely controlled motion of multibody mechanisms. Conventional multibody systems, used in robotics and automated machinery, contain joints that give complex and uncertain tribological effects, impacting negatively on performance. Eliminating the interaction forces within the joint by replacing the bearings with flexure couplings, which are compact deformable structures acting as pseudo-joints, provides more precise and predictable small-scale motion behaviour. Research is needed to optimise these to give precise three dimensional motion.

Perception and autonomy for unmanned aircraft

Supervisors: Dr Jonathan du Bois, Dr Pejman Iravani, Dr David Cleaver

Autonomous aircraft are becoming prevalent. Their integration into civilian airspace is presently limited by safety concerns over their sensing and decision-making processes. This research covers a variety of technologies including - sensors and data fusion - detect and avoid - route planning - system health monitoring and prognostics - mission optimisation

This work aims to create robust and reliable automation to facilitate the uptake of unmanned aircraft systems across a range of civilian sectors.


Additive manufacturing for next-generation hydraulic components

Supervisors: Dr Min Pan, Professor Andrew Plummer

An advantage of additive manufacturing is the ability to form complex geometries that are impossible to make by conventional methods. The fabrication of novel geometries enables greater product optimisation for a particular function. There are also benefits in terms of the environmental impact of component manufacture and a reduction of lead-time for component production or redesign. This project will investigate novel approaches for the design of lightweight, high performance hydraulic components for aerospace and other applications.

Safety systems for healthcare technologies

Supervisor: Dr Ioannis Georgilas

The number of autonomous systems in healthcare applications is increasing. Spanning from robotic surgery and exoskeletons, to intelligent medicine delivery, novel solutions are being proposed to tackle complex medical issues. The close proximity to vulnerable users means that these systems need to be extremely safe to operate. Within this context traditional safety paradigms lack the ability to ensure safety for modern systems. This project will look into the safety aspects of healthcare technologies proposing a new approach to system development and evaluation.

Hydraulic accumulator using a phase-change fluid

Supervisor: Dr Nigel Johnston

Hydraulic accumulators can be used as energy storage devices in hybrid vehicles and other machines, and provide a simple means of saving energy. However at present their energy density is low compared with batteries and other storage devices. The proposed project will be an investigation of accumulators containing fluid that changes phase between gas and liquid when the accumulator is charged and discharged. This has the potential to increase the energy density considerably.

Robotics and autonomous systems

Supervisors: Dr Pejman Iravani, Dr Alan Hunter

Various opportunities are available in the area of robotics and autonomy, including: - Computer vision and control of autonomous vehicles - Development of touch sensitive skin materials for robots - Intelligent power prosthetics and orthotics/exoskeletons. - Sonar imaging and underwater robots

Vibration Isolation for Rotorcraft using Electrical Actuation

Supervisors: Dr Jon du Bois, Prof Andrew Plummer

The aim of the project is to investigate electrical alternatives to the hydraulic actuation used in the current Active Control of Structural Response vibration control systems in operation on Leonardo Helicopters. These systems use actuators in the struts between the rotor hub and the fuselage to cancel rotor induced vibration. The principal advantage sought is a reduction in power requirements, particularly for smaller aircraft where hydraulic systems can be impractical.


Medical robotics

Supervisors: Dr Jon du Bois, Dr Ioannis Georgillas

Orthopaedic surgery is commonly conducted by a surgeon using 2D fluoroscopy images to align drills before initiating the drilling, and to check for alignment as the drilling progresses. This can sometimes take several attempts to perform the procedure correctly and often results in less than ideal hole placement. This project investigates sensing and guidance systems including registration of images between cameras and fluoroscopy/CT imagery, and robotic guidance systems for drill placement, with the aim of reducing operating times and improving clinical outcomes.

Modelling unsteady turbulent flow in pipes with high accuracy, bandwidth and efficiency

Supervisor: Dr Nigel Johnston

Unsteady flow is a key feature of many engineering systems. There is a need for reliable, accurate and efficient mathematical models and simulation tools. Efficient and accurate methods are available for modelling unsteady laminar flow. However, there is currently a lack of models for turbulent flow transients; existing models omit some key features, leading to uncertainty and inaccuracy. This project seeks to address these issues by creating transient turbulent flow models which are efficient, accurate, robust, reliable and properly validated.

Digital Hydraulic System Controls

Supervisors: Dr Min Pan, Professor Andrew Plummer

In most hydraulically powered systems, the speed and/or force of a load are controlled using valves to throttle the flow and thus reduce the hydraulic pressure. This is a simple but extremely inefficient method as the excess energy is lost as heat, and it is common for more than 50% of the input power to be wasted in this way. Digital hydraulics, which means hydraulic systems having discrete valued components actively controlling system output, can potentially have higher efficiency and less energy loss. This project will investigate digital hydraulics via analytical modelling and experimental validation.


Control of Wave Energy Converters

Supervisor: Dr Andy Hillis

Energy from ocean waves could provide ~20% of the UK energy requirement but the cost of energy is high compared to offshore wind. Wave energy converters can be made more efficient for minimal additional capital expenditure through the use of advanced control strategies. A good control strategy can maximise power transfer from the waves to the grid and can also be used to reduce loading in the structure and moorings to prolong lifetime and improve survivability. This project will develop control strategies to achieve maximum cost efficiency.

Piezo-electro-hydraulic actuation

Supervisor: Professor Andrew Plummer

Piezoelectrically-actuated pumps provide a compact and highly controllable power source for small-scale hydraulic actuation systems used in robotics, aerospace and elsewhere. Building on expertise developed in the Centre, this PhD research project will investigate optimisation and motion control applications of this new solidstate pump technology.

Continuum robots for minimal invasive surgery

Supervisors: Dr Nicola Bailey, Dr Ioannis Georgillas

Continuum robots have unjointed flexible backbones that are manipulated by tendons routed through support discs along their length, making them dexterous and thus suitable for minimal invasive surgery. Their advantage over current minimal invasive rigid surgery manipulators are that they have a larger workspace from a single point of entry and have a smaller risk of collateral tissue damage due to being able to minimise the surgical footprint. The aim of this project will be to develop models to predict the continuum robots' behaviour and formulate control methodologies to regulate their movement.