EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (CDT-RAS2)

This page contains information about the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (CDT-RAS2) which accepted students from 2019 to 2023. CDT-RAS2 is no longer accepting applications.

The CDT's goal is to train innovation-ready robotics researchers to be part of a multi-disciplinary team, focusing on Safe Interaction for Robotics.. PhD candidates specialise in one of the following four areas, gaining a deep understanding of technical aspects and theoretical foundations:

  1. Physical Interactions: control, actuation, compliance, sensing, mapping, planning, embodiments, swarms
  2. People Interactions: human-robot interaction, affective robotics, smart spaces, human-robot teaming, collaborative decision-making, cobots, multimodal interfaces
  3. Self-Interactions: condition monitoring, prognosis, explainable AI, certification, verification, safety, security, multi-agent interactions
  4. Interaction Enablers: vision, embedded and parallel computing, novel and soft fabrication methods, optimisation, (transparent) machine learning, deep reinforcement learning and other AI techniques inc. natural language processing (NLP).

Achieving impact with robotics also requires non-technical skills, for example an understanding of technology translation, creativity and entrepreneurial processes. These are an essential component of the CDT programme, captured in the CDT's training programme.


Our bespoke #Cauldron training programme aims to extend the students’ academic enhancement in the interlinked areas of Scientific Cohesion, Research and Creativity Skills, Social and Societal Challenges, and Innovation. A particular feature of #Cauldron is the mixing of students from different years, and across laboratories which encourages cross-disciplinary idea generation. #Cauldron draws on the Vitae Researcher Development framework, implementing the Research Concordat of the UK Research Councils informed by the recommendations of the Roberts' Review “Set for Success”. #Cauldron comprises cohort-wide and elective activities including guest speakers, seminars, skills sessions, tours, retreats and informal discussions. Students select a training portfolio following a development needs analysis to achieve specific training outcomes aligned with their interests.

Year 1

Year one will focus on filling in any gaps in your knowledge that you may need for your PhD and providing you with foundation skills in research for robotics and autonomous systems as part of your Technical Learning Portfolio. You are expected to spend approximately 50% of your time on taught courses and 50% of your time exploring your PhD topic, reading papers and conducting a literature review which will go in your first year report.

Course Selection: Together with your supervisor, you will decide on a Technical Learning Portfolio based on your proposed research area, your current knowledge and previous education. You will take MSc-level courses at both Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. To progress to Year 2, you must obtain a minimum number of 65 credits but you are free to take more as needed. All students are required to take a course on Autonomous Systems Research (30 credits, taught at Heriot-Watt University). This course will introduce you to current research issues in many areas of robotics and related fields including the activities of some of our industrial partners. A list of optional courses will also be distributed to students during induction, covering a range of topics on AI, robotics, and computer science offered at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. Please note that travel between the two campuses is not provided, so you will have to arrange your own transportation to and from each campus.

PhD Topic: You will choose a topic/supervisor for your PhD project on application and together you will finely tune your PhD proposal for your PhD thesis throughout Year 1. You will meet regularly, typically weekly, with your supervisor to receive individual guidance. Some students will choose to work on projects in collaboration with industry partners or to do internships in industry. Others will expect to shape their thesis research towards new products and even companies.

Year 2

This year you will focus on your PhD but there will be a Group Project (20 credits) as well as ongoing CDT seminars and events. The goal of the group project is to promote and encourage cross-disciplinary and co-creation approaches to working. This group project will be supervised by a mentoring academic, lasting approximately 3 months and will be based on a real-world problem proposed by our industrial Project Partners and other RAS stakeholders and with a prize for the top group. Students in Year 2 will present their individual and group work over the previous year at the annual conference. Progression to Year 3 is formally assessed and dependent on completing an annual report, assessed by an independent third party, and all prescribed activities in Year 2 including a short group report or academic paper documenting their group project work.

Year 3

An important innovation in the third year is the placement, this can be with industry or with one of our academic project partners or both, at the discretion of the student supervisor and for a maximum of 6 months. These placements will expose students to different working environments and cultures, scientific excellence and broaden their horizons considerably. Whilst on their placement, each student will be required to report to their PhD supervisors on a fortnightly basis so that progress and any problems can be monitored and addressed. Frequent tele-conferences are also encouraged. A written report on the placement will be required from each student upon their return to Edinburgh and feedback will be solicited from the named host person. Students in Year 3 will present their work over the previous year at the annual conference. Progression to Year 4 is formally assessed and dependent on completing an annual report, assessed by an independent third party.

Year 4

This year will focus on finishing the PhD work but also includes further training opportunities on innovation and industry-readiness. Students in Year 4 will make full conference length presentations on their work at the annual conference. Students also have the opportunity to apply to an Innovation Fund to develop their PhD research into pre-commercial prototype systems and they will be provided with continuing support in writing up their theses.

Cohort approach

The main distinguishing characteristic of the CDT is the cohort structure which provides students with a strong mutually supporting network of other students backed up by a first class resource of related knowledge, skills, experience, and equipment facilities. Cohort building begins before students start the programme, with new students being encouraged to connect to the CDT via its social media activities. This keeps them appraised of news and developments and involves them in the CDT from the outset. An induction programme is organised at each university so that new students meet key staff, other CDT cohorts and students from other related CDTs. Cohort building continues with a team-building weekend at Firbush Outdoor Centre, mandatory attendance by Year 1 students at our regular Gateway events, opportunities to participate in team challenges such as Amazon Alexa, and participation in outreach activities such as the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

The structure of the CDT programme also promotes team-working within the cohort; students undertake multi-disciplinary research and training (e.g., group projects) and are encouraged to share their experience and expertise with others through Masterclasses and the Student Journal Club. This team-working is developed further by providing shared desk space for the students at each university and having an elected student representative for each cohort on the Executive committee. The latter arrangement ensures that the cohort meets regularly to discuss opportunities and challenges, and to receive feedback from the Executive.

Key Features and Benefits

  • Fully funded studentship covering tuition fees and maintenance along with funding for travel, optional international placement and small pieces of equipment.
  • Access to our world class infrastructure, enhanced through the £8M EPSRC capital grant at the Bayes Centre at the University of Edinburgh and the National Robotarium at Heriot-Watt University.
  • Students benefit from supervision by academic experts from both institutions and graduate with a joint PhD from Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh.
  • Excellent training opportunities, including masters level courses in year one, supplemented by training in commercial awareness, social challenges and innovation.
  • Group project to encourage publishable, multi-disciplinary projects and hone team-working skills.
  • Opportunities for an international placement to collaborate with prestigious labs.
  • Enterprise funds available to support development of early commercialisation prototypes.
  • Opportunity for competitive selection for funding from Cambridge IGNITE and MIT Sloan School of Management Entrepreneurship Programmes.
  • Opportunities to compete in international robot competitions (RoboCup, NASA Space Robotics Challenge, SAUC-E Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Challenge Europe, Amazon Alexa Challenge).

Transferable Skills

All CDT students are encouraged to attend transferable skills training sessions which are delivered by both Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. These courses are designed to help postgraduate students acquire and develop skills necessary for their research work and future careers. More details of courses at Heriot-Watt University can be found at the Research Futures Academy. A full list of courses at the University of Edinburgh is available through the Institute for Academic Development.