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Safeguarding Autonomous Systems, Key Generation for Mobile Ad Hoc Networks

Project Description

The PhD studentship will focus primarily on the design of dependable autonomous systems whose behaviours can be verifiable. This will necessarily involve multi-disciplinary research in robotics, mechatronics, embedded systems, machine learning, verification and security. The project will carry out a systematic modelling of the autonomous systems and propose novel algorithms to verify the behaviour of the autonomous systems, e.g., the network behaviour. It can also involve the investigation of the security, dependability, and trust of the autonomous system, by designing novel security solutions and then verifying them by different threat models.

The PhD student will work in the UK-Jiangsu Doctoral Training Centre in Dependable Autonomous Systems (DPAS), which currently comprises of 3 UK universities (Liverpool, York, QUB) and 3 Jiangsu Province Universities (Soochow University, Southeast University and Nanjing University of Science and Technology). All six partner universities have impressive credentials with specialist expertise in areas such as Machine Learning, Mechatronics, Communications and Security, and these are being applied to the following emerging industrial sectors: Advanced Manufacturing; Robotics, and Autonomous Systems. Although it’s clear that these skills can be applied to many other key areas such as healthcare and the environment. The DTC will provide tailored training programmes for PhD students and support in-depth collaboration between the participating Jiangsu and UK Universities.

Autonomous system involves a number of agents working collaboratively, e.g., in smart manufacturing, unmanned (aerial) vehicles, etc. It can be modelled as a mobile ad hoc network (MANET), where machines, robots or vehicles cooperate to complete a task. The lack of a network centre makes the signal protection challenging. On the other hand, the information transmission should be protected against eavesdropping and more importantly from tampering.

Key generation has emerged as a promising technique to establish cryptographic keys between a pair of users from their common wireless channels. This technique has been prototyped with many wireless technologies, such as WiFi, ZigBee, Bluetooth, LoRa, etc. Therefore, it can be applied to protect the wireless transmissions in autonomous systems. In particular, this PhD studentship aims to address the following challenges.

(1) Key generation feasibility. The wireless channels in autonomous systems will be various. The wireless environment in the smart manufacturing will be featured with strong multipath because of many metal surfaces. The channel of unmanned aerial vehicles may be dominated by strong line-of-sight and noisy. Key generation will be investigated against these specific challenges.

(2) Group/multi-user key generation. In an autonomous system, a number of devices will have to exchange information securely, which requires a common key shared among them. An efficient group/multi-user key generation will be designed.

(3) System prototyping and experimental validation. The proposed protocols will be prototyped by using the state-of-the-art software defined radio platforms. Extensive experimental results will be collected.

The research group has extensive facilities for undertaking research into this area including a number of sophisticated devices and SDR platforms, including USRP, WARP, Zedboard; they also have the access to the advanced wireless test facilities including one of the UK’s largest reverberation chambers.

The research group has close collaborations with colleagues in Southeast University, China, which have produced a number of significant advances in this area. This PhD studentship will further promote collaboration and enhance this research relationship. Southeast University will host the successful PhD candidate when required during the course of the studentship.

The conditions and stipend are in alignment with UKRI scholarships ( ) with the some additional minor teaching obligations.

Applicants for postgraduate research study at Liverpool are normally expected to hold a UK first degree with a First Class or Upper Second Class degree classification, or a Second Class degree plus a Master’s degree.

English Language Requirements

Students from the UK will normally be expected to have a GCSE in English at grade 4 or above, or an equivalent qualification.

For students whose first language is not English, the University’s minimum requirements are the IELTS test with a minimum overall score of 6.5, and no less than 5.5 in each of the sub-tests (reading, writing, speaking and listening) or an equivalent qualification.

Deadline: 5pm - 20th September 2019.

All enquiries should be directed to Project Manager Cynthia Wang with a copy of your curriculum vitae.
For applications, please send your application form to Cynthia and copy Dr. Junqing Zhang . The subject of your application email shall be DPAS- Your Full Name- EEE 2019.

Please visit: to download a copy of the application form.

Funding Notes

The scholarship provides payment of fees and living expenses available to UK/EU applicants, altogether around 60k GBP over the 3 years. International students are required to demonstrate matched funding to cover living expenses and accommodation, of at least GBP 45,027 over the 3 years.


Junqing Zhang, Trung Q. Duong, Alan Marshall, and Roger Woods, “Key generation from wireless channels: A review,” IEEE Access, vol. 4, pp. 614- 626, Mar. 2016.

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