Underwater Robotic Perception and Intervention (2 scholarships)

  • Two Fully-Funded PhD Scholarships Available
  • POSTED: May 2, 2023
  • CLOSES: Open until filled
  • LOCATION: Sydney, Australia
  • POSITION: PhD Scholarship
  • ORGANISATION: University of Sydney
  • SUPERVISOR: Professor Ian Manchester / Dr. Viorela Ila

The Australian Centre for Field Robotics Marine Systems Group at the University of Sydney has two fully funded PhD positions open in underwater robotic perception and intervention, as part of the new Australian Robotic Inspection and Asset Management Research Hub, ARIAM. 

Applicants with a strong background in Mechatronic Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Machine Learning, or similar programs are encouraged to apply. 

This project aims to develop new underwater perception methods for real-time scene understanding and methods for vision-enabled control to support underwater manipulation and intervention. The work will focus on methods that integrate with our industry partners’ cutting-edge underwater electric manipulators to support high-level control and automation of intervention tasks. This work is a collaboration with Reach Robotics, which is an industry leader in developing advanced robotic manipulators for marine and other harsh environments. This collaboration will provide opportunities for close working experience and networking with industry leaders in marine systems. 

The challenges

  • Fast-moving, tightly integrated 6-DOF underwater robotic platforms that inspect, map, and maintain infrastructure through mid-range and close-up operations 
  • Murky water, bubbles, debris, low light, motion blur, and low-texture surfaces 
  • Computationally limited systems and real-time throughput and latency requirements 

Depending on interest and ability, candidates will investigate one or more of: 

  • Real-time algorithms for high-fidelity 3D reconstruction of close-up underwater scenes 
  • Methods for semantic scene understanding and reconstruction such as mapping with known structural priors 
  • Methods for vehicle/manipulator control that are tightly coupled with the real-time 3D scene reconstruction, enabling high-level automation of intervention tasks or active viewpoint planning for surveys with manipulator mounted cameras/sensors 

Research Environment

ARIAM Hub is a collaboration between leading academic researchers and experts from the Australian robotics industry supported by the Australian Research Council to deliver research excellence in robotics for asset management. ARIAM spans 3 leading Australian universities: The University of Sydney, QUT and ANU. These positions are supervised by Professor Ian Manchester, who leads the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) and Dr. Viorela Ila . 

The ACFR is the largest robotics and automation research group in Australia and is one of the largest in the world. For over 20 years the ACFR has been a leader in research and training in field robotics, with programs in agriculture, intelligent transportation systems including autonomous driving, and in marine robotics including an ongoing benthic monitoring program operating multiple ROVs and AUVs. The ACFR offers specialised imaging labs and facilities, robotic platforms, test tanks and robotic field labs across on-campus and nearby off-campus sites. You will have access to mechanical and electronics workshops and a pool of technical staff to help realise your research ambitions. The ACFR is part of The University of Sydney which offers a rich academic setting in a world-class city. 

 The Marine Systems Group at the ACFR hosts a medium test tank for developing novel underwater scene reconstruction techniques.  We have access to a broad range of underwater robotic systems: 

  • BlueROV2 platforms equipped with stereo imaging and Reach Robotics manipulator 
  • AUV platforms for high resolution seafloor imaging 
  • Unmanned Surface Vessel
  • Sensors including imaging, sonar and positioning systems 

 Reach Robotics are headquartered a short walk from the University of Sydney campus, where they develop advanced manipulator arm solutions for harsh underwater environments. Their products enable complex inspection and intervention in maritime infrastructure management, marine science, autonomous robotics research applications, and more.  

The two roles advertised here are part of a larger opportunity that will hire and bring together a large group of PhD students and multiple Postdocs. 


Two fully funded 3.5-year PhD scholarship covering tuition fees and stipend. 

About You

Successful candidates will have: 

  • A bachelor’s degree in a relevant discipline 
  • Interest in robotics research for perception or perception enabled control with direct impact in an entrepreneurial, dynamic industry 
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills 
  • Creativity, curiosity, and passion 
  • Experience with one or more of mechatronics, computer vision, machine learning, control 
  • Hands-on experience with robotic platforms, ROS, Python, C++, and/or deep learning frameworks would also be an asset 

International Applicants

Domestic and international applicants are welcome. The Australian PhD is a 3.5-year program, generally with direct entry from an undergraduate degree with a final-year thesis project (see Admission Criteria below). 

Candidates complete a total of two graduate-level classes of their choice as part of the PhD program. There are no doctoral qualifying / candidacy exams. Candidates complete a viva / oral thesis defence at the completion of the program. 

Admission Criteria

Successful candidates will need to enrol in the University of Sydney’s Doctor of Philosophy (Engineering) program. Enrolment requirements are listed on the University website here. Key requirements are: 

  • An Undergraduate or Master’s degree with overall first-class Honours or equivalent, AND 
  • Some sort of research experience, either: 
    • Completion of an Undergraduate degree with a final-year thesis/project, OR 
    • Completion of a Master’s by research degree, OR 
    • Completion of a Master’s by coursework degree with a substantial research project. 

How to Apply

Application deadline June 2nd Midnight (Sydney time) 

Please use the form below to apply and include the following (with the format yourname.docx/pdf etc.): 

  • CV 
  • Unofficial transcripts 
  • Cover letter 

Please also include a Google Drive link to a 2-minute selfie video covering the following: 

  • Your strongest engineering skills 
  • What do you enjoy most about developing technology 
  • A description of a project that you’re proud of, or plan to be when completed 


Job Application

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