Research Associate in Motion Planning and Manipulation for Marine Robotics

Heriot Watt University

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We are actively looking for a talented researcher in robotics and machine learning to work on the Prosperity Partnership project between Heriot-Watt and Seebyte Ltd.

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Salary: Grade 7, £35,308 – £43,155

Contract Type: Full Time (1FTE) 36 months, Fixed Term Contract

Rewards and Benefits: 33 days annual leave, plus 9 buildings closed days (and Christmas Eve when it falls on a weekday) for all full time staff. Use our total rewards calculator: to see the value of benefits provided by Heriot-Watt University.

Heriot-Watt University has established a reputation for world-class teaching and leading-edge, relevant research, which has made it one of the top UK universities for innovation, business and industry.

Nearly 30,000 students study with Heriot-Watt across business, engineering, design and the social, physical, biological and sports sciences. Our student body is roughly split evenly between the UK, our two campuses in Dubai and Malaysia, and online, with the latter being distributed across almost all the countries of the world. We also have many partnerships with other institutions world-wide who award Heriot-Watt degrees.

Detailed Description 

We are actively looking for a talented researcher in robotics perception and manipulation to work on the UNITE project.

The UNITE prosperity partnership project brings Fugro Ltd, a major Tier 1 offshore service provider, together with a world-leading robotics research team from Heriot-Watt University and Imperial College London to address key open research challenges for safe and robust robotic solutions in the offshore renewable sector. It specifically focuses on the development and deployment of perception-enabled, risk-aware underwater intervention techniques, which are critical for the widespread adoption of robotics solutions in this rapidly expanding sector. The vision of the UNITE project is to develop a holistic solution to autonomous and semi-autonomous underwater intervention applied to the maintenance and repair of offshore wind farms, remotely monitored from shore and safely operated worldwide. UNITE’s research vision and programme aim at reducing the use of crewed support vessels for operation, keeping offshore turbines more productive with less downtime and more timely and cost-effective maintenance and repair. This will also support the industry to cut costs and carbon footprint while dramatically improving health & safety.

You will join the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, a joint venture between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh which has established itself as one of the largest and most visible robotics research centres in the UK, building on a strong tradition in robotics in each university. Since its creation in 2013, we have secured £100M of investment in infrastructure, a Centre for Doctoral training (EPSRC), enabling us to recruit over 15 PhD students per year and very recently the £30M ORCA Robotics Hub (EPSRC) in Robotics and AI for Offshore Asset integrity management. There has therefore never been a better time to join us and be part of a truly unique endeavour in the UK and probably in the world. Details on the activities of the centre can be found at . We have also recently established the National Robotarium, a new research centre working at the interface of academia an industry to promote adoption of leading-edge robotics solutions in the real world.

The UNITE project is a collaboration between Heriot-Watt University, Imperial College London and Fugro Ltd, a world leader in inspection and maintenance. Sponsored by EPSRC, this 3 years project will explore fundamental research in advanced autonomy for underwater manipulation.  The multidisciplinary research team currently being assembled between (6 people) will address key scientific challenges including 3D perception of UUVs on both geometric and semantic understanding with even a limited amount of underwater data, providing accurate object semantics and grasping affordance to support planning and control (O1), novel motion planning architectures that merge machine autonomy and human decision making, to harmoniously control USVs, UUVs, and manipulators thus allowing the advanced human-machine shared autonomy (O2) and advanced techniques (time-delay control, model predictive control) for autonomous whole-body control of vehicle-manipulator systems to physically interact with assets in the presence of disturbances and time-delays in the control loop (O3).

The position advertised here (O2) and will try to address the following research questions:

RQ2.1: How can motion planners be developed for joint planning for manipulation, UUV and USV

navigation? How can their kinematic and dynamic constraints be fully incorporated into the planning?

• RQ2.2: How can we tightly couple the real-time sensing with planning, increasing on-board situational and risk awareness?

• RQ2.3: How do we ensure human operators are kept in the loop at the right level?

The researchers will be supported by an experienced professional team for project management, outreach, and industry liaison. You will also receive complementary training in a range of areas (robot ethics, outreach, commercialization, etc…) and will be offered numerous professional development opportunities to maximize your career development.  

Candidates will have a PhD in engineering, computer science or a related area or equivalent research experience. You will be working as part of a large team of researchers and we expect excellent communication and teamwork ability from any candidates to these positions. 

Key Duties and Responsibilities

The Research Associates and Investigators will closely collaborate: there will be regular meetings throughout the project, as well as larger project management meetings that the Research Associates will be expected to attend. The Research Fellow/Associate shall:

  • take responsibility for co-ordinating his or her own work within the framework defined by the project, and as defined by the Investigators;
  • organise his or her own work and time in order to meet the deadlines and milestones as defined within the project, or as modified after discussion with the Investigators;
  • keep the Investigators and other relevant individuals informed of progress;
  • collaborate with Investigators in writing research proposals to seek further funding and technology pull through;
  • interact with potential PhD students who will be collaborating on the project;
  • interact with other Research Associates and Ph.D. students working on related projects;
  • support the reporting of progress to our sponsors and industrial partners via reports, website updates and any other means as defined by the investigators;
  • engage positively with our industrial collaborator;
  • support the organisation of workshops and conferences as necessary;
  • support the development of technology demonstrators for your work and the collaborative work undertaken with other RAs;
  • Participate in the setup and maintenance of a shared code and data base to foster collaborative work with other RAs in our research group.

Education, Qualifications and Experience


  • Excellent mathematical skills in devising and analysing robotics algorithms. 
  • Hold a PhD, or equivalent research experience
  • Demonstrated research ability in motion planning, manipulation and computer vision
  • Demonstrated ability to publish in major international journals in the field.
  • Ability to carry out independent research
  • Ability to work in a diverse team of researchers and engineers
  • Excellent written and oral presentation skills
  • Software programming skills appropriate for simulation work and algorithmic development
  • Experience of ROS environment


  • Previous experience in marine robotics. 
  • Experience in working in large collaborative projects.



You will be supervised by Prof Yvan Petillot, Dr Sen Wang, Dr Carlos Mastalli and Dr Suphi Erden. 

‘How to Apply’

Applications can be submitted up to midnight (UK time) on 25th June 2023

Please must submit via the Heriot-Watt on-line recruitment system (1) Cover letter describing their interest and suitability for the post; (2) Full CV that includes the list of publications

It is recommended to contact Professor Yvan Petillot by email at [email protected]  for any informal inquiry, prior to a formal application. .

At Heriot Watt we are passionate about our values and look to them to connect our people globally and to help us collaborate and celebrate our success through working together. Our research programmes can deliver real world impact which is achieved through the diversity of our international community and the recognition of creative talent that connects our global team.

Our flourishing community will give you the freedom to challenge and to bring your enterprising mind and to help our partners with solutions that can be applied now and in the future. Join us and Heriot Watt will provide you with a platform to thrive and work in a way that also helps you live your life in balance with well-being and inclusiveness at the heart of our global community.

Heriot-Watt University is committed to securing equality of opportunity in employment and to the creation of an environment in which individuals are selected, trained, promoted, appraised and otherwise treated on the sole basis of their relevant merits and abilities.  Equality and diversity are all about maximising potential and creating a culture of inclusion for all.

Heriot-Watt University values diversity across our University community and welcomes applications from all sectors of society, particularly from underrepresented groups. For more information, please see our website  and also our award-winning work in Disability Inclusive Science Careers  .

We welcome and will consider flexible working patterns e.g. part-time working and job share options.

Use our total rewards calculator:  to see the value of benefits provided by Heriot-Watt University.

We are actively looking for a talented researcher in robotics and machine learning to work on the Prosperity Partnership project between Heriot-Watt and Seebyte Ltd.

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