[visionlist] PhD positions at IIT - Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Science

Giulio Sandini giulio.sandini at iit.it
Wed Sep 16 15:23:09 PDT 2009


 

PhD Course: Robotics, Cognition and Interaction Technologies – XXV Cycle

 

Research Themes Proposed by the Department of 

Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences

 

 

Eight  PhD positions are available at the Robotics,
<http://www.iit.it/en/robotics-brain-and-cognitive-sciences.html>  Brain and
Cognitive Sciences Department (RBCS) of the Italian Institute of Technology
(IIT) within the Doctoral Course “Robotics, Cognition and Interaction
Technologies”. 

 

The Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Science department directed by Professor
Giulio Sandini, is a multidisciplinary community of scientists sharing
research interests and contributing jointly to the emerging field of human
centered research and technologies with a focus on learning and development
and, in general, on the dynamics of knowledge acquisition and update in the
framework of goal directed actions. Among the Senior Scientists coordinating
RBCS research activities are Franco Bertora (Brain Imaging), Luciano Fadiga
(Brain Machine Interface), Giorgio Metta (Cognitive Robotics), Pietro
Morasso (Motor Learning and Robot Rehabilitation), Concetta Morrone
(Visuo-haptic Perception), Stefano Panzeri (Brain Signal Analysis), Thierry
Pozzo (Physiology of Action and Perception),. Collaborations with
international research centers and industries is carried out throught
formalized projects and teaching-oriented international networks.  RBCS is
the home of the iCub humanoid robot (www.icub.org).

 

More information about RBCS research:
http://www.iit.it/en/robotics-brain-and-cognitive-sciences.html  

 

Within the department’s Research Agenda, proposals for PhD fellowships are
accepted with reference to three main streams: 

1.	Humanoid Robotics and Cognition (themes 3.1 to 3.7): The themes
under this heading group the research activities targeting the humanoid
platforms of the lab among which iCub (the platform of the RobotCub project
www.robotcub.org) and “James” (a one-arm humanoid build to investigate
manipulation and object affordance). The research themes proposed are
examples of the planned activities in areas such as cognitive systems,
sensorimotor coordination, advanced materials for actuation, sensing and
scaffolding. 

-       Theme 3.1: Composite materials design for biocompatible robotic
structural elements.

-       Theme 3.2: Finite element analysis and CAD design of robotic
components made from variable stiffness composite materials

-       Theme 3.3: Learning body dynamics in humans and robots

-       Theme 3.4: Manipulation and Learning in Humanoid Robots

-       Theme 3.5: Reaching and Moving in the Peripersonal Space for a
Humanoid Robots

-       Theme 3.6: Neuromorphic sensors for humanoid robots

-       Theme 3.7: Event-driven vision for robot control

2.	Human Behavior, Perception and Biomechanics (themes 3.8 to 3.12):
The themes under this heading group the research activities targeting the
study of how humans learn, perceive and act. This year’s focus is on
multimodal sensory integration, the control of redundant degree of freedom
and a new topic addressing the neural correlates of biological motion
inference. 

-       Theme 3.8: Measuring the human body

-       Theme 3.9: Action and task representation in human and robot
learning

-       Theme 3.10: Action and Perception coupling

-       Theme 3.11: Modular control of natural motor behaviour

-       Theme 3.12: Psychophysical study of unimodal perception and
multimodal integration

3.	Brain Machine Interface, (themes 3.13 and 3.14): The themes under
this heading will contribute to the multidisciplinary BMI project developed
at IIT aiming at 'reading' the brain to understand and extract motor signals
which may be used to the development of innovative prosthetic devices. 

-       Theme 3.13: Information theoretic extraction of muscle synergies

-       Theme 3.14: Nano-scaffolds with on-design tunable properties for
tissue engineering

 

Short abstract and scientist in charge of the research themes proposed are
included below and are to be considered as indications of this year’s
priorities. Research projects within the same areas are welcome and will be
also considered.

 

Interested applicants should read the procedure described below and/or refer
to the IIT’s website (www.iit.it) to download instructions for application
and/or contact directly the scientists in charge for more information
regarding the individual research plans.


Submission procedure in short


 

Application letters and the required accompanying documents as detailed in
the call for applications
(http://www.iit.it/media/call/ciclo25_iit_bando_en.doc) should be prepared
following the outline of Annex B (application form) and be sent within
September, 25th 2009 to Magnifico Rettore dell’Università degli Studi di
Genova.

 

Besides completing the application form (Annex B) you must provide the
following documents:

·         Curriculum vitae et studiorum dated and signed 

·         A photocopy of a valid identity document;

·         Title and synthetic description of dissertation (also on cd-rom); 

·         A list of exams with the grades;

·         At least one letter (and not more than three) of presentation of
the candidate signed by a university lecturer or an expert in the subject;

·         A signed research project concerning one or more of the research
themes described above you intend to apply  (maximum 10 pages);

·         A statement of actual knowledge of the English language; foreign
nationals may also state their knowledge of the Italian language;

·         Any other qualifications relative to the subject areas of the
research dealt with in the course, papers shall not be more than 10 pages
long.

 

On the envelope you should indicate the name of the course (Robotics,
Cognition an Interaction Technologies) and the number of the research theme
you are applying as described above.

 

Application letters and the required documents can be delivered 

 

1.       by mail

Applications can be sent using a registered letter. The envelope must
include in the header the following wording: “Concorso per ammissione al
XXIV ciclo del Dottorato di Ricerca” Doctoral Course: Robotics, Cognition
and Interaction Technologies and has to be addressed as follows:

 

Magnifico Rettore dell’Università degli Studi di Genova

Servizio Alta Formazione e  Ordinamenti Didattici

Via Balbi 5

16126 – Genova 

Italy

 

2.       by hand

Letters can be handed personally to the following office (opening time: 9:00
– 12:00, Monday to Friday; extra opening on Tuesday and Wednesday from 14:30
to 16:00):

 

Università degli Studi di Genova

Servizio Alta Formazione e  Ordinamenti Didattici

Via Bensa 1 -  2nd  floor 

16124 Genova 

Italy

 

For any further information regarding the application procedure please
contact:

 

Ms Anastasia Bruzzone

Doctoral School UNIGE-IIT

Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia 

Via Morego, 30 - 16163 Genova

Tel. +39 010 71781472 

Fax. +39 010 7170817 

Email:  <mailto:anastasia.bruzzone at iit.it> anastasia.bruzzone at iit.it

 


RESEARCH TOPICS PROPOSED BY RBCS Department


 


STREAM 1: Humanoid Robotics and Cognition


 

Theme 3.1: Composite materials design for biocompatible robotic structural
elements.

Tutors: Dr. Davide Ricci, Dr. Alberto Barone

This Ph.D. thesis proposal originates from the collaboration of the IIT
Robotic, Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department with the IIT
Nanobiotechnology Facility.

An essential task that needs to be addressed in the realization of robotic
prosthetic devices is the coupling of structural elements of artificial
limbs with bone tissue. Many pre-clinical and also clinical reports
demonstrate that poor scaffold design and inadequate tissue culture
conditions are currently the major problems in bone tissue engineering that
may prevent its successful applications. To overcome these limitations,
novel structural biomaterials and better bio-reactor processes are needed,
capable of sustaining and guiding bone tissue precursors generation and
differentation. Within this project, we will pursue the integration of
bio-hybrid synthetic techniques, nanotechnologies and advanced material
processing technologies to obtain three-dimensional scaffolds able to guide
and control tissue growth, differentiation and proliferation.

Requirements: Potential candidates should have basic background in one or
more of the following fields: materials science, polymer science,
biomechanics

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
davide.ricci at iit.it alberto.barone at iit.it

 

 

Theme 3.2: Finite element analysis and CAD design of robotic components made
from variable stiffness composite materials

Tutor: Prof. Giorgio Metta

A traditional robot is made of mechanical parts that are assembled with
screws, bearings, levers, gears and other components to obtain the desired
functionality. An emerging trend in robot design relies instead on deriving
the required functionality directly from the materials properties. Two
approaches can be envisaged: either by appropriately combining functional
materials with different properties via methods similar to the "shape
deposition manufacturing" (Kutkosky et al. 1989) or by locally modifying a
composite material properties changing the density and nature of fillers. To
this end, CAD and FE simulations are essential tools to choose the
appropriate materials and shape for the robot components. 

The goal of this project is the design of a robot hand for the iCub (
<http://www.robotcub.org> http://www.robotcub.org) that includes variable
stiffness mechanics, sensorization (proprioceptive and tactile), wiring and
tendon driven actuation. Appropriate controllers are also required to match
and exploit natural compliance but also to compensate for e.g. backlash. The
reference task will be manipulation.

The ideal candidate would have a background in mechanical engineering or
related disciplines, and in particular, skills in finite element
analysis/modelling, robotics, and more in general in the use of polymers in
mechanical design. On the other hand, IIT will provide a fully equipped
machine shop with CNC and rapid prototyping machines both on polymers and
metal. The successful candidate is expected to work in a team and contribute
substantially to the design of a future release of the iCub.

Requirements: physics, mechanical or material engineering,

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
giorgio.metta at iit.it 

 

Theme 3.3: Learning body dynamics in humans and robots

Tutor: Dr. Francesco Nori

Humans exhibit a broad repertoire of motor capabilities far beyond the
capabilities of modern robots. Remarkably, there is strong evidence that
these capabilities are strongly linked to human adaptability to novel
dynamical contexts (J.R. Lackner and P. Dizio, 1994) (R. Shadmehr and F.A.
Mussa-Ivaldi, 1994) (J. Konczak et al., 1995). Related neurophysiological
experiments suggest that this adaptability can be the result of a modular
organization of the central nervous system which forms forward and inverse
dynamical representations by means of multiple modules. 

The final goal of this research project will be to enhance a “state of the
art” humanoid robot (http://www.icub.org) with a “beyond the state of the
art” adaptive dynamical controller. The project should focus on the robot
ability to develop, learn and adapt a multisensory representation of its own
body dynamics and of the surrounding dynamical environment, possibly
exploiting the generalization potentialities behind a modular
representation. 

Requirements: engineering background, confidence with dynamical system
analysis, (optional) machine learning, adaptive control 

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
francesco.nori at iit.it and giorgio.metta at iit.it 

 

 

Theme 3.4: Manipulation and Learning in Humanoid Robots

Tutor: Dr. Lorenzo Natale

Object manipulation is a key ability for robots. However current robots are
very poor at manipulating objects in dynamical or unmodeled environments.
Unfortunately this situation is quite common in practical scenarios and
seriously hampers the possibility to employ robots outside industries or
research laboratories. 

In this project we will study the role of haptic information (touch,
proprioception and force) for manipulation. The goals of the project are
two: i) to implement control strategies for grasping and manipulating
objects and ii) to investigate how to use the sensory information
originating from the manipulation of objects (haptic but also visual or
auditory) for learning about objects and the environment. 

The project will be carried out working on the robot iCub. The iCub is a 53
degree of freedom humanoid robot equipped with dexterous arms and hands
(respectively 7 and 9 degrees of freedom). We have recently added torque
sensing on the arm and realized tactile sensors to be mounted on the hand
and the arm of the robot. 

We seek candidates with a strong background in computer science and
engineering that are interested in studying perception and learning in
artificial systems. Backgrounds of electronics and mechanics are not
required, but the candidates should have a strong motivation to work on
robotic systems.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
lorenzo.natale at iit.it and giorgio.metta at iit.it

 

 

Theme 3.5: Reaching and Moving in the Peripersonal Space for a  Humanoid
Robots

Tutor: Prof. Giorgio Metta, Prof. Luciano Fadiga

Tantalizing evidence from neuroscience is showing that the control of
reaching in humans and animals is correlated with the activation of several
neural pathways, where touch, proprioception, and vision are intertwined
with motor information in a multisensory representation of the space around
the body (Fogassi, Gallese, di Pellegrino, Fadiga, et al. 1992).

The goal of this PhD program is to model these multiple neural pathways in
the form of a working controller for a humanoid robot. The robot in question
is the iCub which is equipped with vision, proprioception and soon with a
distributed sensorized skin. We will study how this multisensory
representation can be acquired through learning and development during the
interaction of the robot with the environment. We will formulate models that
are in agreement with neuroscience (Rizzolatti, Fadiga, Fogassi, Gallese,
1997).

We are seeking candidates with a strong motivation to implement biologically
sound models in a humanoid robot, with a background in engineering or
related disciplines, programming skills, and some machine learning or
computer vision experience. The successful candidate is expected to work in
a team and integrate with the existing development tools and methods.

Requirements: engineering or computer science background, some experience in
one of more of the following disciplines: machine learning, computer vision,
control systems, neuroscience.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
giorgio.metta at iit.it or luciano.fadiga at iit.it

 

 

Theme 3.6: Neuromorphic sensors for humanoid robots

Tutor: Dr. Chiara Bartolozzi

Biological sensory systems outperform conventional digital systems in almost
all aspects of perception tasks, where the system must process noisy and
ambiguous stimuli to produce appropriate behavioral responses. The goal of
this project is to introduce in the field of robotic vision the principles
of biological sensory systems design. Specifically we aim at combining the
design of novel data-driven biologically inspired sensory devices with the
development of new asynchronous event-driven computational paradigms, with
structure and morphology that are matched to the requirements of the robots
body and its application domain. The candidate shall work on testing of
existing asynchronous vision sensors and on the design of new sensors, using
analog real-time low-power VLSI neuromorphic circuits. The candidate will
participate in the whole project development by also interacting with
researchers developing supporting data-driven asynchronous computational
paradigms for machine-vision methodologies, and participating to the testing
of the developed vision system performance on advanced humanoid robotic
platforms. 

Requirements: Applicants should have a strong interest in bio-inspired
hardware engineering, fundamental notions of microelectronics and background
in neuroscience.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
chiara.bartolozzi at iit.it

 

 

 

 

Theme 3.7: Event-driven vision for robot control

Tutor: Drs. Giorgio Metta, Chiara Bartolozzi, R. Benosman

The goal of this project is to develop asynchronous event-driven
computational paradigms for designing visual systems based on data-driven
biologically inspired sensory devices providing spike-based outputs. Such
sensors respond with spiking events to relative variations of contrast in
their field of view. This approach reduces redundancies and produces a
sparse image coding. The generated data are spatiotemporal volumes which
size and information depend only on the dynamic content of observed scenes.
The real-time asynchronous output nature of the sensors ensures precise
timing information and low latency, yet requiring a much lower bandwidth
used by frame-based image sensors of equivalent time resolution. The high
temporal precision is crucial for real-time interaction with the environment
and is especially suitable for tasks requiring fast evaluation of dynamic
scenes, involving real time interaction with the environment. At the same
time, the nature of the sensor's output requires a radically new framework
of data-driven asynchronous computational paradigms for vision. The
candidate will work on the development of event-driven algorithms for the
visual system of a humanoid robot, the iCub, starting from stereo vision and
binocular vergence control to end up with recognition and control of the
robot’s own hands dynamics, with the final goal of objects dexterous
manipulation.

Requirements: Ideal candidates have a strong background in robotics or
computer vision; candidates with background in neuroscience are also
welcome. They should have potential for excellent research and the
capability to collaborate within an interdisciplinary research group with
people from all these disciplines. They should be highly motivated to use
robotics for tackling fundamental issues in bio inspired perception.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
giorgio.metta at iit.it chiara.bartolozzi at iit.it

 


STREAM 2: Human Behavior, Perception and Biomechanics


 

Theme 3.8: Measuring the human body

Tutor: Prof. Luciano Fadiga

This ambitious project aims at overpass traditional limitations in precisely
measure cinematic, physiological and neuro-vegetative parameters during the
normal behavior in healthy subjects. Among the to-be-explored possibilities:
occlusion-immune dynamic tracking of body parts, miniaturized eye-motion
detectors, measurements of tactile stimulation by determining the
modifications of epidermal-dermal electric impedance, multi-technique
simultaneous determination of vegetative states (skin resistance, thermal
imaging, pupil diameter, changes in prosodic tonality, etc.). The Ph.D.
thesis work will be devoted to setup new techniques, to build specifically
dedicated hardware and software, to build a normative database during
different kind of motor activities, as well as inter-individual interaction
and communication. 

Requirements: Background in electronics and computer science is a must.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
luciano.fadiga at iit.it

 

 

Theme 3.9: Action and task representation in human and robot learning

Tutor: Prof. Pietro Morasso, Dr. Lorenzo Masia

In recent years it has become clear that purposive action, in humans and
humanoid robots, requires the bi-directional interaction among the brain,
the body, and the environment. This has important implications at the
computational level, in the sense that task-critical computations must not
necessarily be totally centralized in the “brain” but can be distributed to
the implicit dynamics of the body and the environment, thus implementing
what is known as “morphological computation”. However, most research in this
area has been focused on robot locomotion (passive dynamic walking or
running) or insect flying. The purpose of the thesis instead is to focus on
motor learning, while interacting in a haptic and visual way with dynamical
processes that emulate an artificial environment generated by means of
robotic devices. A variety of robotic platforms will be used to create human
robot interaction: monomanual and bimanual tasks involving proximal and
distal arm will be implemented using different control scheme and robotic
devices. Experiments on human learning will be analyzed in such a way to
provide useful insight for the organization of robot learning paradigms.

Requirements: Backgrounds in computer sciences, robotics, automatic control,
behavioural neurosciences are required.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
pietro.morasso at iit.it, lorenzo.masia at iit.it

 

 

Theme 3.10: Action and Perception coupling

Tutor: Prof. Thierry Pozzo

The idea that observation can activate motor representation that do not
result from observer past executions (i.e., without sensory and motor signal
resulting from actual execution, as in the case of new motor abilities),
opens innovative learning methods for humans and robots. Ph.D. thesis work
will involve students in the fields of motor control (3D kinematic analysis,
optimization control) and robotic (machine learning
). 

The aim is twofold:  

1)     To study biological motion recognition using non invasive brain
activity measurements (TMS, EEG,FMRi), EOG and psychophysics, making the
hypothesis of online action simulation at observation. Moreover the loci of
internal models of action will be investigated: TMS will be used to induce
virtual lesions of different cortical areas (STS, superior parietal lobule
)
during the motion display and the potential effect on the end point
estimation in order a) to verify the true role of parietal cortex in the
inverse model elaboration, b) to quantify the effect on estimation accuracy
and, c) to detail the circuitry of the action to perception matching system.

2)     to implement the experimental results performed on human in robot for
learning by imitating human movements. For instance the perceived action of
a teacher can be mapped onto a set of existing primitives inside the robot.

Requirements: Backgrounds in computer sciences, robotic or behavioural
neurosciences are required.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
thierry.pozzo at iit.it

 

 

Theme 3.11: Modular control of natural motor behaviour

Tutor: Dr. Thierry Pozzo

The research project will be performed on the basis of previous results
obtained during an original paradigm developed to study both equilibrium and
spatial components of a complex multijoint goal oriented task (Pozzo et al.
2002, Berret et. Al 2009). A number of interesting questions arise when
considering together the control of equilibrium and arm trajectory
formation. For example: 1) What are the control laws governing a multijoint
reaching movements (requiring a high degree of equilibrium control and
numerous DoF)? 2) How are integrated equilibrium component with finger
manipulating activities performed with distal body parts? 3) Is there a
macroscopic representation (motor primitives) at spinal and/or supraspinal
level of such components and can they be combined like building blocks to
perform this task in different mechanical contexts and to adapt to task
changes (velocity, postural stability, lack of gravity, initial sensory
state..). These questions will be investigated by using EMG analysis, 3D
motion capture and TMS in addition to computational approaches in line with
the idea that invariant characteristics of motor behavior reflects
optimality criteria used by the CNS to select of the best motor strategy
among all possibilities. 

Requirements: Backgrounds in computer sciences, robotic or behavioural
neurosciences are required.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
thierry.pozzo at iit.it

 

 

Theme 3.12: Psychophysical study of unimodal perception and multimodal
integration

Tutor: Dr. Monica Gori

As no single information-processing system can perceive optimally under all
conditions, integration of multiple sources of sensory information makes
perception more robust. Many recent studies have demonstrated the capacity
of human observers to integrate information across various senses in a
statistically optimal (sometimes termed “Bayesian”) fashion, where greater
weight is given to the sense carrying the more reliable information under
any particular condition. Importantly, performance in the multimodal
condition is always better than in either single modality. The work done in
our research group is related to the study of unimodal perception and
multimodal integration of different kinds of signals to understand the rules
that govern and modulate sensory fusion. This knowledge  is fundamental to
deepen our understanding  of brain processing and will be important to
reproduce human abilities in artificial systems. One PhD student will be
involved in psychophysical experiments related to this research theme with
the goal of understanding the rules that govern multisensory fusion. He will
be required to study  human perception with psychophysical techniques.
Within the many aspects that will be studied we can cite the analysis of
dynamic signals (e.g. visual, tactile and haptic) and the development of
multisensory fusion (e.g. visual-haptic, visual-audio, audio-haptic) in
children of different ages (as in Gori et.al.2008). All these studies will
be extended to people with different disabilities. 

Requirements: Backgrounds in experimental psychology, neuroscience and basic
programming skills (in particular Matlab) are required.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
monica.gori at iit.it <mailto:thierry.pozzo at iit.it> 

 


STREAM 3: Brain Machine Interface


 

Theme 3.13: Information theoretic extraction of muscle synergies

Tutor: Dr. Stefano Panzeri

In this 4-year-long PhD project, we aim at determining the patterns of
muscle activation that best describe, using the minimal number of variables,
many different types of complex movements which underlie the execution of
tasks involving both reaching objects and maintaining equilibrium [1]. The
project will be jointly supervised by Prof. Stefano Panzeri and Prof.
Thierry Pozzo. The student will analyze electromyographic recordings of
large numbers of muscles spread throughout the subject’s body by using and
adapting to this particular purpose advanced techniques arising from the
theory of communication [2]. The student will also help with data collection
and the refinement of the experiment design. 

Requirements: The ideal candidate will have a degree in a numerate
discipline (engineering, physics or mathematics), a multidisciplinary
attitude, and a very keen interest in applying mathematical concepts to
understanding biological processes. A good understanding of information
theory is a plus.

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
stefano.panzeri at iit.it

 

 

Theme 3.14: Nano-scaffolds with on-design tunable properties for tissue
engineering

Tutor: Dr. Davide Ricci

In the past years, great progress has been made in understanding the
essential requirements that have to be satisfied by synthetic materials to
be used as scaffolds for tissue engineering. Presently, there is an ever
increasing request for materials whose morphological, elastic and bioactive
properties may be tuned on demand to investigate their effect on growth and
differentiation of specific cell lines. The aim is to create highly
efficient tree-dimensional interfaces between biological and artificial
systems, allowing the development of innovative prosthetic devices. This
ambitious goal may be pursued by a bottom-up approach in the design and
assembly of appropriate nano-materials, such as carbon nanotubes and
electrospun polymers, thus giving rise to a new generation of cellular
scaffolds

Requirements: Potential candidates should have basic background in one or
more of the following fields: bioengineering, materials science, physics,
chemistry

For further details concerning the research project, please contact:
<mailto:andrea.barberis at iit.it> davide.ricci at iit.it

 

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