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PhD position in soft aerial robotics in Zürich

Studierende finden an der ETH Zürich ein Umfeld, das eigenständiges Denken fördert, Forschende ein Klima, das zu Spitzenleistungen inspiriert.


100%, Zurich, fixed-term

 is seeking highly motivated PhD students in the domain of soft aerial robotics to study the design and control of rotorcrafts with deformable frames.

Project background

Drones are finding an increasing number of applications, ranging from mapping and surveying vast areas while flying in open skies to accessing confined environments for inspections or search and rescue missions. Despite the vastly different mission profiles, drones share a striking set of similarities. In contrast, in nature, each flying animal possesses a body highly adapted to its ecological niche. This results in significant differences in terms of both body and brain; for example, consider the differences in the sensorimotor systems of eagles, bats, and mosquitoes.

The European project SPEAR project aims to revolutionize the field of drones and deliver the vision of mission- and environment-tailored aerial robotics through a collective view of the design of the robots’ “body” and “brain”. ETHZ’s contribution to the project is threefold: (i) develop novel frames for rotorcrafts that strategically combines rigid and soft materials to enable morphing and collision resilience, (ii) study how the softness of the frame has an impact on the controllability of the drone and (iii) develop novel propulsion systems to actively control the stability and shape of these soft frames.

Job description

Within the broad scope of the upcoming European project SPEAR, the PhD candidate will contribute to the domains ofdesign, manufacturing, propulsion and control of soft aerial robots. The responsibilities encompassed by this role include:

  • Conceiving novel design strategies for soft frames for rotorcrafts, considering constraints derived from evolutionary algorithms and manufacturing processes
  • Implementing manufacturing process for soft aerial robots
  • Developing propulsion units for maneuvering and morphing
  • Designing new control strategies that consider both passive and active deformations of the soft frame
  • Contributing to the validation and field testing of soft aerial robots in relevant scenarios, such as unmanaged forests and industrial infrastructures
  • Contributing to the project reporting and dissemination activities
Your profile
  • You hold a MSc degree in robotics, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, or related fields
  • You have a professionally relevant background in any or all of the domains of mechanical design, aerodynamics, soft robotics, control theory
  • You have experience in design and prototyping of aerial robots
  • You have experience in design and prototyping of soft robots
  • You have experience with implementation of real-life robotic systems
  • You have excellent written and oral English skills
Your workplace
Your workplace

We offer

The project will be hosted by the Environmental Robotics Lab at ETHZ and WSL. The activity will be part of European project that includes extensive university and industry collaboration and thus many opportunities for international collaboration.

The period of employment is 4 years with a starting date Jan 1st 2024.

Here are examples of relevant results in the domain of soft aerial robots:

We value diversity
In line with , ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected. Visit our to find out how we ensure a fair and open environment that allows everyone to grow and flourish.
Curious? So are we.

We look forward to receiving your online application including:

  • 1-page letter of motivation addressed to Prof. Stefano Mintchev
  • CV and certificates
  • Bachelor's and Master's degree transcripts and diplomas. If you have not completed your master's degree, you may submit the most up-to-date transcript
  • A copy of the Master's thesis. If you recently have submitted your master's thesis, you can attach a draft of the thesis
  • Name and contact information of two referees
  • If you have publications, software that you have developed, or other relevant research work please include it (or a summary for it)

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted via our online application portal. Applications via email will not be considered. 

For more information, specific questions regarding the position can be directed to Professor Stefano Mintchev at  (no applications). Review of applications will be on an ongoing basis beginning Nov 1st 2023 and continue until the position is filled.

About ETH Zürich
ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

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