Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems (CRNS)

The centre builds on the world-leading and international excellence performance in the field of computer science, cognitive robotics and neural computation. Staff at the centre coordinate large UK and FP7/H2020 projects (e.g. COGNOVO, APRIL, L2TOR) and collaborate with the major international centres in cognitive robotics and computational neuroscience. The Centre is part of the Faculty of Science and Engineering’s priority area on Robotics and Autonomous Systems, together with the Autonomous Marine System group. Given the Centre’s highly interdisciplinary approach, it collaborates with researchers in the Cognition Institute and the Marine Institute.

Research at the CRNS strategically focuses on the following research areas, aligned to international and UK priorities:

  • The application of mathematical and computational modelling, computational neuroscience and cognitive modelling in robotics and autonomous systems.
  • Computational neuroscience and developmental and learning models of biological and artificial systems. 
  • The investigation and understanding of the interaction between humans and robots, with an emphasis on language and non verbal communication and social learning.
  • The application of computational models into real-world robotic and interactive systems such as robot companions for hospitalised children and for elderly care, robots in education, personal robotics, future intelligent systems and autonomous systems.


  • iCub Cognitive Robotics Lab, for access to the €200K iCub robot, the world benchmark platform for cognitive robotics with 53 DoFs, compliant actuators, and skin in forearms and hand palms for tactile HRI and fine object manipulation. The robot recently received an upgrade to its head and with the addition of new arms and skin sensors.
  • Human-Robot Interaction Lab, with 6 Nao robots, a Gypsy VI full-body motion capture suit, and Microsoft Sandpit interaction table. 
  • RobotHome, recently refurbished lab, with ambient intelligence setup and with Scitos G5 Mobile platform for experiments on assisted living. 
  • Baxter Robot Lab, for safe human-robot interaction. 
  • Robot Football and Education Lab, with 18 Plymouth designed (50 cm tall) humanoid robots used for research in locomotion, teaching in mechatronics and control, and school dissemination activities. Participation in International Robot Football (RoboCup) and Athletics (FIRA) competitions since 2007. A new 1m tall teen/adult sized robot has also been commissioned.
  • Swarm Robotics Lab, with 40 e-puck mobile robots with on-board cameras and Linux/WiFi for swarm and social robotics.
  • Motor Learning and Robotics Lab, with two vBOT manipulanda robots and a three dimensional 3BOT robot for experiments on human motor control and learning.
  • Computational Neuroscience and Brain-Machine Interaction (BMI) Lab, with Linux Beowulf computer cluster with 80 cores and fast interconnect, Retina VSLI and National Instruments FPGA for BMI.
  • Apple P-ARTS for NVIDIA GPU Labs with the Apple sponsored 'P-ARTS: Plymouth Advanced Robotics Training Suite' (cluster of 4 X-servers for robot training) and the NVIDIA’s sponsored GPU Centre (12 networked computers with 30 Tesla cards). Grant-in-kind from Apple Inc. and from NVIDIA Inc.


The CRNS has a range of state-of-the-art robots used in our cognitive, personal and brain-inspired robotics research. The iCub robot is a humanoid robot having the dimensions of a young child. Numerous Aldebaran Nao humanoid robots are used for tutoring tasks and will soon be joined by the new Aldebaran (SoftBank) robot pepper. The SCITOS G5 mobile platform is used for experiments on robot companions for the elderly. And the Baxter robot is used for work on human-robot cooperation.

Robots for teaching purposes

The CRNS uses a variety of robot for its teaching: Mitsubishi RV-2AJ industrial robot arms, UMI RT 100 industrial robot arms, Bioloid humanoid robots, Sony AIBO robots and Evolution ER1 robots.

In-house built robots

Various robot platform have been designed in-house. The AlBot is a small differential drive robot used to teach behavioural computing and VHDL design, CD buggies are used for first encounters with robot building. The SlothBot is a slow moving wall-like robot built for an arts project. The Autonomous Wheelchair was developed for a 1997 exhibition by Donald Rodney. ButlerBot is a robot designed to serve drinks during highly dynamics and unpredictable cocktail parties. The CNRS has a strong presence in the Hurosot humanoid robot football competition. The Robot Bunny is a platform developed for teaching and bipedal robotics research.

Robotic resources

  • Robot Bunny

    Robotic resources

    Robot Bunny
  • Robot Arm playing chess

    Robotic resources

    Robot Arm playing chess
  • FIRA 2011 - humanoid robots

    Robotic resources

    FIRA 2011 - humanoid robots
  • Clothes sorting robot

    Robotic resources

    Clothes sorting robot
  • Sony AIBO robots

    Robotic resources

    Sony AIBO robots
  • ButlerBot - robot designed to serve drinks

    Robotic resources

    ButlerBot - robot designed to serve drinks
  • iCub robot

    Robotic resources

    iCub robot
  • Nao robot

    Robotic resources

    Nao robot

Robotics Society

There is a thriving robotics society at Plymouth University in which undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students work on fun challenges in robotics. The society meets on Wednesdays during term time in PSQ B103 from 4 to 6pm.


Plymouth Robotics Day, 30 June 2016 (UK Robotics Week)

To celebrate the first UK Robotics Week (25 June - 1 July 2016) Plymouth University organises an afternoon of academic presentations, followed by a public exhibition and debate on robotics and artificial intelligence.

Plymouth robotics research featured as Top Story in the US NSF Science260 News

The recently published PLoS ONE paper on developmental robotics and psychology modelling of posture influence in word learning (in collaboration with Linda Smith at Indiana University, USA) has been featured at a Top Sttory (20 March 2015) in the USA NSF Science306 News​.

New MIT Press book on developmental robotics

Cangelosi's volume Developmental Robotics: From Babies to Robots​, co-authored with Matt SChlesinger (SIUC) has been published by MIT Press. Visit the publisher website for more details on the book and the endorsement by Jay McClelland, Giulio Sandini, John Spencer and Gerard Sagerer.

CRNS staff in the news

The BBSRC project on neurobiology of the tadpole has featured in national and regional news, as with Professor Borisuyk's interviews on BBC News, and on the newspapers Plymouth Herald and This is Devon​.

Robin Read's PhD work has also appeared in the New Scientist​.

Launch of CogNovo Marie Curie IDP

CogNovo is an Innovative Doctoral Programme, funded by the EU Marie Curie initiative and Plymouth University, to foster research training in the emerging field of Cognitive Innovation. The programme is currently advertising 14 Early career Research fellow positions and 12 additional PhD studentships. See cognovo.eu​.

New projects

MoveCare: Multiple-actors Virtual Empathic Cargiver for the Elder 

Award of new H2020 grant 'MoveCare: Multiple-actors Virtual Empathic Cargiver for the Elder' (Euro 440k to PU), which will combine robot companions and games to support the independent living of the elderly. The grant is led by Professor Angelo Cangelosi (SoCEM/CRNS) as PI, with Professor Ray Jones of the Institutes of Health and Community as co-investigator. This grant is in collaboration with Oxford University, Milan University (coordinator) and other academic and user partners in Europe.

L2TOR: Second language tutoring using social robots

L2TOR (pronounced ‘el tutor’) is a scientific research project on second language tutoring using social robots funded by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Commission. The project aims to design a child-friendly tutor robot that can be used to support teaching preschool children a second language (L2) by interacting with children in their social and referential world. The project is led by Plymouth University, with Professor Tony Belpaeme as coordinator.

Three new Sklodowska Marie Curie ITN grants awarded in the Spring of 2015: APRIL EID, SECURE ETN and DCOMM ETN

The APRIL European Industrial Doctorate, led by Cangelosi, Belpaeme and Dahl, will look at personal robotics applications through interaction and learning. This is in collaboration with Aldebaran Robotics.

Angelo Cangelosi and Jeremy Goslin will be supervising tow ESR PhD students in the new H2020 SECURE ETN to look at the role of language, non-verbal behaviour and affordances in human-robot interaction.

Cangelosi will also lead the CRNS partnership of the DCOMM ETN on Deictic Communications.

DECORO: Developmental context-driven robot learning

A two year Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowships (IEF) has been awarded to the researcher Martin Stolen with the supervision of Professor Angelo Cangelosi.

ENACT: Enhancing negotiation skills through on-line assessment of competencies and interactive mobile training

Davide Marocco has been awarded a two year LLP KA3 Multilateral funded project with the aim to achieve a new milestone towards the provision of innovative pedagogy and assessment methods for helping people to enhance and (self-)assess their negotiation competences based on recent psychological modelling and the application of current ICT research (e-learning, mobility, internet, artificial intelligence).

THRIVE: Trust in human-robot interaction through embodiment (US Air Force Office Science and Research)

Angelo Cangelosi has been awarded a contract from the US Air Force Office of Science and Research (AFSOR-EOARD) to work on trust in human-robot interaction. The $540k contract will see the hiring of two four-year PhD students, one designing the social skills of the robots and the other carrying out experiments on trust relationships between robots and human participants.

Cross-modality integration in animal locomotion (BBSRC)

Roman Borisyuk, in collaboration with Alan Roberts and Steve Soffe of University of Bristol and Wen-Chang Li from University of St Andrews, has been awarded a large three year BBSRC funded project to understand how multi-modal sensory signals are integrated and used to generate and direct locomotion. The project will use both animal (frog tadpoles) and computational models to explore the neural networks responsible for the locomotor response.

DREAM : Development of robot-enhanced therapy for children with AutisM spectrum disorders (FP7)

Tony Belpaeme is involved in a new, EU funded, project to support children with autism through robot therapy. The €6,600,000 DREAM project will start in 2014 and run for four and a half years. Partners include Skövde University (Sweden), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), University of Babes Bolyai (Romania), Plymouth University (UK), University of Portsmouth (UK), University of Twente (The Netherlands) and Aldebaran Robotics (France).

Current staff

Contact the Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems

Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems Plymouth University A311 Portland Square PL4 8AA Plymouth Devon United Kingdom