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Bird-inspired Gust Soaring for Unmanned Air Vehicles

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, March 20, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Birds are known to save energy by soaring in rising air, such as in thermals or near ridges, however there is also significant energy that could be harvested from wind gusts. Gust soaring offers the possibility of harvesting energy without having to use specialised flight paths, by merely reacting to gusts that are encountered in normal flight in an optimized way. This project will quantify the gust soaring of wild birds and develop flight control algorithms to enable gust soaring for unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). The flight of wild birds will be quantified using a field capable video-tracking system we have developed. Control algorithms will then be developed in simulation based on the bird’s behaviour, allowing different control strategies to be tested in different types of simulated gusty environments. These algorithms will finally be tested in free-flight with UAVs to validate the real world applicability of energy harvesting by gust soaring to improve the range and endurance of UAVs.

This is a PhD opportunity to join the dynamic and inter-disciplinary research communities of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and the Bio-Inspired Flight Lab at the University of Bristol. The student will be part of the FARSCOPE CDT programme with additional funding from a DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) PhD Scholarship.

FARSCOPE is an EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems based in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory – the largest specialist robotics laboratory in the UK. We offer a 4-year PhD programme specifically designed to give you both the multidisciplinary tools and contextual knowledge to tackle today’s research challenges in Robotics and Autonomous Systems. FARSCOPE offers you a cohort-delivered programme that promotes outward-looking innovation. Throughout your PhD, you will have peer-support from students within your year group and with other students within the Centre.

URL for further information:

Candidate Requirements

We are looking for a committed and highly motivated PhD student holding an upper second-class honours degree in a Robotics, Engineering, Computer Science, Physical Sciences, Mathematical Sciences or a relevant discipline. You should have strong mathematical and programming skills and be fluent in written and spoken English. If English is not your first language, please provide a recognised English language qualification at Profile E. Further information:

Informal enquiries

For informal enquiries, please email Dr Shane Windsor ()
For general enquiries, please email

Application Details

To apply for this studentship, submit a PhD application using our online application system []
Please select PhD ‘Robotics and Autonomous Systems FARSCOPE’ on the Programme Choice page. Clearly indicate “DSTL Bird Studentship” as the funding source in the Funding and Research Details sections of the form together with the name of the supervisor. Apply now

Funding Notes

Scholarship covers full UK/EU (EU applicants who have been resident in the UK for 3 years prior to 1st September 2020) PhD tuition fees and a tax-free stipend at the current RCUK rate (£15,009 in 2019/20) with a £2,000 per year top-up. Some constraints are in place around residence for education View Website.
Candidates must also comply with the entry requirements of the PhD programme they wish to be considered for.

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