Research themes

The CRNS has two major research themes: 

  • (i) CRNS is a centre of excellence in robotics research, focusing on cognitive robotics by using insights from human cognition to build human-like performance in robots and machines and applying this to build personal robots.
  • (ii) The second research pillar at CRNS is its expertise in computational and theoretical neuroscience, applying models of the nervous system to achieve a better insight in the functioning of biological nervous systems and using these insights to solve practical problems.

Research funding

The CRNS grant portfolio in the last five years is over £9 million, with the coordination of FP7 research above €20 million.


BABEL: Bio-inspired architecture for brain embodied language is a new EPSRC project on the computational neuroscience modelling of language and action learning in the humanoid robot iCub, and its implementation in the neuromorphic systems SpiNNAker. Angelo Cangelosi is the PI and project coordinator, also responsible for neuro-robotics research tasks. Thomas Wennekers and Sue Denham are co-investigators in Plymouth for computational neural networks modelling. Steve Furber and David Lester lead neuromorphic research at Manchester University, and Friedmann Pulvermueller (Free University Berlin) responsible for brain imaging studies and computational modelling. Industry advisors include representatives from ARM, HONDA HRI and TMSUK Japan. The project is also co-funded by the BBSRC.


A neural network generating flexible locomotor behaviour in a simple vertebrate: studies on function and embryonic self assembly, EPSRC funded (project total £1,000,000, Plymouth receiving £344,900, 2009-2012).

L2TOR (H2020)

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 coordinated by Plymouth University.

APRIL (H2020 Marie Sklodowska Curie ITN-EID)

APRIL (Applications of Personal Robotics for Interaction and Learning) is the first Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Industrial Doctorate (ITN-EID) to train the next generation of researchers and engineers for the emerging field of personal robotics. APRIL is the result of the internationally leading, strategic synergies of Plymouth University’s Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems (CRNS) and A-Lab of the Aldebaran-SoftBank Robotics industry partner. ESRs students will further benefit from secondments and specialised complementary training in six associate partners sites from industry, academia and robot user groups. The project is coordinated by Plymouth University.

SECURE (H2020 Marie Sklodowska Curie ETN)

The SECURE European Training Network aims to train a new generation of researchers on safe cognitive robot concepts for human work and living spaces on the most advanced humanoid robot platforms available in Europe. The fellows will be trained through an innovative concept of project- based learning and constructivist learning in supervised peer networks where they will gain experience from an intersectoral programme involving universities, research institutes, large and SME companies from public and private sectors. Plymouth University participates with two ESR, one on neuroscience experiments on affiordance (supervised by Jeremy Goslin) and one on robot model of verbal and non-verbal communication (supervised by Angelo Cangelosi).

DCOMM (H2020 Marie Sklodowska Curie ETN)

This European Training Network will train the next generation of scientists in the full range of multidisciplinary and cross-sectorial methods necessary to make significant progress in understanding deictic communication, with direct synergies between basic research and application. Training is structured around two interdisciplinary research themes – Understanding Deictic Communication and Deictic Communication in Application – both involving extensive and systematic co-supervision and collaboration across sites with key interplay between academic and non-academic beneficiaries and partners. Plymouth University is a beneficiary with two ESR working on developmental robotics experiment on language and gesture communication.

DOROTHY (H2020 Marie Skłodowska Curie IF)

The DOROTHY project is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship funding Dr Séverin Lemaignan. DOROTHY (Donating Robots a Theory of Mind) studies meta-cognition in social robotics and uses an interdisciplinary approach to comprehend and formalize higher-order artificial cognition. The aim of which is to advance the design and practical implementation of socially interactive robots, aiming for 'cognition beyond problem solving'.

DREAM (H2020)

The DREAM project 'Development of Robot-Enhanced therapy for children with AutisM spectrum disorders' (ref. FP7-ICT-600915). Integrated Project under the 7th framework programme of the European Union. 4.5 year project, start 1 February 2014. Total budget of 8.6 million euros, with 1.23 million euros for Plymouth. Belpaeme is Principal Investigator at Plymouth. Other partners are Hogskolan I Skovde (Tom Ziemke, Project Coordinator), Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Universitatea Babes Bolyai, University of Portsmouth, De Montfort University and Aldebaran Robotics.


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. CogNovo offers transdisciplinary training that combines scientific studies of the neural correlates and mechanisms of creativity, with investigations into the role of creativity in human cognition, and their application in sustainable technological and social innovation. The CogNovo consortium includes academics and experts from 24 international partner Institutions. The ITN is led by Professor Sue Denham.

DeCoRo (FP7 Marie Curie EF)

The DeCoRo research project explores real-time developmental learning in a humanoid robot on practical real-world manipulation tasks. Such learning may help robotic systems move towards fulfilling their promise for improving lives and living. This Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship project is carried out by Dr Martin F. Stoelen, under the supervision of Professor Angelo Cangelosi.

Past research projects


CONCEPT: Linguistic and direct transmission of concepts in human-robot networks is an EPSRC funded project (£192,291, 2008-2011) led by Tony Belpaeme studying how robots can acquire concepts using language and how conceptual information can be transferred between robots.


COLAMN: A novel computing architecture for cognitive systems based on the laminar microcircuitry of the neocortex is a £1,861,976 EPSRC funded project running from 2005 to 2010. The project lead is Thomas Wennekers.


CARMEN: Code analysis, repository, and modelling for e-neuroscience is an EPSRC funded project locally led by Roman Borisyuk (project total £4,037,770, Plymouth receiving £103,000, 2006-2010).

Distributed control in a swarm of UAVs (AFOSR/EOARD)

Project funded by the US Air Force Lab (EOARD) led by Angelo Cangelosi ($149,446, 2007-2010).

ResITALK (FP7 Challenge 2)

The ITALK project Integration and transfer of action and language knowledge in robots is an integrated project under the 7th framework programme, studying how language and action interact with cognition. This €6.25 million project (of which Plymouth receives €1.68 million) running from 2008 to 2012 will use a humanoid robot, the iCub, as a test platform and will help us understand how intelligence can be recreated. Plymouth, with Angelo Cangelosi and Tony Belpaeme, acts as coordinator of ITALK.


The Mars rover research project, funded by the Advance Concept Team at European Space Agency (Ariadna Programme), to investigate the role of the island model in the optimisation of controllers for autonomous space robots. The project is led by Angelo Cangelosi, Davide Marocco, and Martin Peniak, with the assistance of Barry Bentley.

Instruction-Based learning for Mobile Robots (EPSRC)

Instruction-based learning for mobile robots, EPSRC, 1999-2003, led by Guido Bugmann. This joint project between the Plymouth University and the University of Edinburgh explored a still-untapped method of knowledge acquisition and learning by intelligent systems: the acquisition of knowledge from Natural Language (NL) instruction. This is very effective in human learning and will be essential for adapting future intelligent systems to the needs of naive users. The aim of the project was to investigate real-world Instruction Based-Learning (IBL) in a generic route instruction task. Users engaged in a dialogue with a mobile robot equipped with artificial vision, in order to teach it how to navigate a simplified maze-like environment. The experimental set-up limited perceptual and control problems and also reduced the complexity of NL processing. The research focused on the problem of how NL instructions can be used by an intelligent embodied agent to build a hierarchy of complex functions based on a limited set of low-level perceptual, motor and cognitive functions. We investigated how the internal representations required for robot sensing and navigation can support a usable speech-based interface. Given the use of artificial vision and voice input, such a system can contribute to assisting visually impaired people and wheelchair users.

P-ARTS (Apple Inc.)

The P-ARTS project (Plymouth Advanced Robot Training Suite) is an Apple Research and Technology Support project funded in kind by Apple. Davide Marocco, Tony Belpaeme, Angelo Cangelosi and Rob Ellis will use Apple Xserve machines to support cognitive robotics research.

SCANDLE (FP7 Challenge 2)

The SCANDLE project is an exciting collaboration between five leading European institutions: Plymouth University: Dr Susan Denham, Dr Thomas Wennekers, Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Pszichológiai Kutatóintézet: Professor István Winkler, Institute of Neuroinformatics, University of Zurich: Dr Giacomo Indiveri, University of Cyprus: Professor Andreas Andreou, Dr Julio Georgiou, Carl von Ossietzky Universität: Professor Georg Klump.

Over the next three years we will be developing a system that will be able to identify and distinguish living beings from inanimate objects, on the basis of sound alone: a cognitive acoustic scene analysis system. This system will be able to construct composite representations of living beings exclusively through the use of information derived from sounds. This will happen in two ways:
1. in a passive way, to detect sounds generated or caused by living beings;
2. in an active way, using a newly developed microsonar device. This device will emit sounds that bounce off objects. The system will learn to recognise patterns in the sounds that are returned.

Find out more information on the explanations of these two types of detection.

Virtual Research Centre in Personal Robotics (EPSRC)

The Virtual Research Centre in Personal Robotics (EPSRC) is a EPSRC funded project (£118,458, 2007-2010) led by Guido Bugmann to create a virtual UK-wide research centre for personal robotics.


VALUE: Vision, action, language unified by embodiment is an EPSRC funded project (£809,132, of which Plymouth receives £507,722, 2008-2011) between the University of Dundee and Plymouth.


Brain-inspired neuronal model of attention and memory, EPSRC, £149,656, led by Roman Borisyuk.

ORATOR (FP7 Marie Curie IEF)

ORATOR: Integrating object recognition and ActiOn for action sentence production and comprehension in a developmental humanoid robot

The main aim of this research project is twofold. First, we want to contribute to the knowledge of interaction (cross-talk) between (action) language and motor structures and suggest a possible developmental mechanism. On the other hand, we want to endow a robot with the ability to comprehend simple sentences composed by a verb and a noun.

POETICON++ (FP7 Challenge 2)

Poeticon++: Robots need language, is a new project on the computational mechanisms for generalisation and generation of new behaviours in robots. This is the follow-up of the successful Poeticon project. The Plymouth team consists of A. Cangelosi, T. Morse and M. Peniak. The project is coordinated by Katerina Pastra (Cognitive Science Institute, Athens), and with other partners as Y. Aloimonos (U. Maryland., USA), L. Fadiga and G. Metta (IIT, Italy), and J. Santos-Victor (IST, Portugal).

ALIZ-E (FP7 Challenge 2)

ALIZ-E: Adaptive strategies for sustainable long-term social interaction. Integrated project under the 7th framework programme of the European Union. Tony Belpaeme and Angelo Cangelosi coordinate the €8.3 million four and a half-year project, of which the CRNS receives €1.4 million. The ALIZ-E consortium consists of seven academic partners (Plymouth as coordinator, Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, Imperial College, University of Hertfordshire, National Research Council Padova), one hospital (San Raffaele del Monte Tabor, Italy) and one SME (Gostai, Paris). ALIZ-E runs from 2010 to 2014.

ROBOT-ERA (FP7 Challenge 5)

The project ROBOT-ERA: Advanced robotic systems and intelligent environments for the ageing population will start in October 2011. Cangelosi and Belpaeme, in the Plymouth team, will be working on human-robot-interaction interfaces and on action/language integration research. The project is coordinated by Paolo Dario (SSSA Italy), and with other partners such as A. Saffiotti (Orebro U., Sweden), Zhang (Hamburg U., Germany), four industrial partners (Italy, Germany), three user partners (Italy, Sweden). ​

ROBOTDOC (FP7 Marie Curie ITN)

The ROBOTDOC project is a Marie Curie Initial Training Networks (ITN) led by Plymouth University. ROBOTDOC unites top European universities to jointly train early career researchers to study the development of cognition in robotics. Partners include the University of Zurich, the Italian Institute of Technology, the University of Skovde (SE), the University of Bielefeld (D), the University of Sunderland, Uppsala University, Yale University (USA), RIKEN (Japan) and companies Telerobot and Honda. ROBOTDOC runs from 2009 to 2012 and receives €3.3 million in funding.