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Digital Stone: Robotic Construction of a Masonry Arch Bridge


   Civil Engineering

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Stone bridges and buildings were widely built up until the 1920s. They last for hundreds - and in many cases thousands of years, for example those built by the Romans. With 80% lower carbon emission compared to concrete or steel, stone is also the most sustainable construction material for long-term projects.

Traditional stone construction technology is suitable for individual bridges but needs to be updated for wider-scale applications. By combining traditional stonemasonry with current technology, the Digital Stone Bridge Construction sector will offer a feasible and sustainable alternative for the 21st century.

The aim of this PhD project is to develop a novel AI system for autonomous stone arch bridge construction. The candidate will work with robotic arms within the AI Centre laboratory, including the high-precision Franka Emika cobot (https://www.franka.de/) which has 7 degrees of freedom and is capable of complex manoeuvres and will focus on developing the control algorithms that will enable the robot arm to automatically construct a scale-model for a 1-2m span masonry arch bridge.

The specific technologies that will be developed are:

1) Computer vision system for identifying stone units and determining optimal gripping locations for safe pick up

2) Robotic control system to ensure safe and smooth movement of stone units from stockpile to end location, as well as safe and smooth placement of the units

3) A bi-directional digital twin of the bridge, to be used for planning construction sequences and updating the construction process in real-time.

The research sits at the intersection between robotics, structural engineering, computer science and is a collaboration between the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Centre for Artificial Intelligence (AI). The researcher will become part of an established and dynamic research group which meets frequently and works collaboratively on a range of industry problems across numerous industries.

About you

Due to the technical nature of this project, the ideal candidate will either be a robotics, computer science graduate or a civil engineering graduate with a programming background. A Masters’ degree is desired but not essential for the role.

Research journey

Doctoral research programmes (PhDs) take a proud place in the world-class research environment and community at Brunel. PhD students are recognised and valued by their supervisors as an essential part of their departments and a key component of the university's overall strategy to develop and deliver world-class research.

A PhD programme is expected to take 3 years full-time or 6 years part-time, with intakes starting in January, April or October.

The general University entrance requirement for registration for a research degree is normally a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (1st or 2:1) or an international equivalent. A Masters degree is a welcome, but not required, qualification for entry.

Find out how to apply for a PhD at Brunel

Research support

Excellent research support and training

The Graduate School provides a range of personal, professional and career development opportunities. This includes workshops, online training, coaching and events, to enable you to enhance your professional profile, refine your skills, and plan your next career steps as part of the Researcher Development Programme. The researcher development programme (RDP) offers workshops and seminars in a range of areas including progression, research management, research dissemination, and careers and personal development. You will also be offered a number of online, self-study courses on BBL, including Research Integrity, Research Skills Toolkit, Research Methods in Literature Review and Principles of Research Methods.

Library services

Brunel's Library is open 24 hours a day, has 400,000 books and 250,000 ebooks, and an annual budget of almost £2m. Subject information Specialists train students in the latest technology, digital literacy, and digital dissemination of scholarly outputs. As well as the physical resources available in the Library, we also provide access to a wealth of electronic resources. These include databases, journals and e-books. Access to these resources has been bought by the Library through subscription and is limited to current staff and students. 

Dedicated research support staff provide guidance and training on open access, research data management, copyright and other research integrity issues.

Find out more: Brunel Library

Careers support

You will receive tailored careers support during your PhD and for up to three years after you complete your research at Brunel. We encourage you to actively engage in career planning and managing your personal development right from the start of your research, even (or perhaps especially) if you don't yet have a career path in mind. Our careers provision includes online information and advice, one-to-one consultations and a range of events and workshops. The Professional Development Centre runs a varied programme of careers events throughout the academic year. These include industry insight sessions, recruitment fairs, employer pop-ups and skills workshops.


Funding Notes

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: View Website. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

How good is research at Brunel University London in Engineering?


Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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