Herman.Bruyninckx (@) mech.kuleuven.be

Celestijnenlaan 300B bus 2420, room 01.053, B-3001 Leuven (Heverlee), Belgium

Tel: (+32) 16 32 80 56 (direct), (+32)16 32 24 80 (secr)

Dr. Herman Bruyninckx

University of Leuven
Mechanical Engineering
KU Leuven logo
      Eindhoven University of Technology
Mechanical Engineering
TU/e logo

How to reach Leuven. My location on OpenStreetMap.

Professional profile

My ambition is to become the best meta-level, systems-thinking roboticist alive…


“Sense-Plan-Act” and “Subsumption Architectures” are things of the past in robotics, to be replaced by the “Every robot task is a constrained optimization problem” paradigm, that links continuous, discrete and symbolic knowledge, at runtime, and all the time.


My research focuses on making use of as much domain knowledge (the “robotics ontology”!) as possible, especially for realtime algorithms and software, close to the hardware, the controller(s) and the sensor(s). My major research questions are:

  1. How can knowledge-driven, affordance-based robot programming, perception and learning be made more realtime, while still taking into account more prior knowledge (“models” about he objects and the robots), more sensors, and more features in each sensor?

  2. How should the robot control software of the future be developed? And how will it cope with the exploding complexity in knowledge, distributed components, and variation in tasks?

    The currently most popular robot software architecture is Sense-Plan-Act (as an unfortunate by-product of the ROS domination of the software field), but its architectural primitives are too limiting to support real affordance approaches.

  3. What are the new Domain Specific Languages (DSLs) that we have to develop to make the knowledge representation and the programming of robots a lot more easy? (And, at the same time, a lot more deterministic and semantically consistent!)

  4. How should we design and apply multi-sensor perception networks, to replace the traditional “single-sensor pipeline architectures”?

Think weird, design big, implement small, cooperate worldwide, exploit regionally!

Here is a bit more detailed description of my research areas:

Current projects


Bibliometrics-driven science policies create schisms between scientists and society, hindering the impact and application of scientifc research, and the creation of innovative new paradigms

Contact me to get electronic copies of my publications. (This database-generated list only goes back five years; here is a full version.)

I have been very active in promoting the introduction into the robotics domain of the separation of concerns concept, originally via the 4Cs (of Radestock and Eisenbach, 1996, see below), which I recently refined into the 5Cs: Computation, Communication, Coordination, Composition, and Configuration.

In expectation of the first “real” publication of the 5Cs, please, refer to this White Paper, created in the context of the Robot Standards (RoSta) project: Erwin Prassler, Herman Bruyninckx, Klas Nilsson, and Azamat Shakhimardanov, The Use of Reuse for Designing and Manufacturing Robots. Klas deserves the credit of introducing me to the seminal paper by Matthias Radestock and Susan Eisenbach, Coordination in evolving systems, Trends in Distributed Systems. CORBA and Beyond, Springer-Verlag, 1996, pp. 162-176.

PhD students

Robotics PhD students of all countries, unite! Not to write yet another thousand papers “full” of Least Publishable Units of knowledge, but to let your progress have an impact on solving the real societal challenges of this century

Selected past projects

The FP7 projects BRICS (Best Practice in Robotics, 2009–2013) and Rosetta (Robot control for skilled execution of tasks in natural interaction with humans; based on autonomy, cumulative knowledge and learning, 2009–2013) have helped me understand what step changes are required in the domains of, respectively, systems software engineering and task specification.

Teaching & Education

If universities are serious about lifelong learning, they stimulate their professors, staff and students to develop educational contents primarily within the Wikipedia ecosystem: Wiki articles, Wiki books, and Wiki courses. The others pay lots of money to keep their educational material behind passwords, preventing their students to access the material almost immediately after they have passed a course…

In Leuven

The contributions to the education of our young engineers that I value most are my emphasis on (i) system-level thinking, and (ii) attitude of constructively critical evaluation of all available sources of information, starting with pseudo-peer reviewed open content such as the Wikipedia. Our students score poorly on both aspects, which I think are fundamental for Europe's ability to maintain an innovative R&D ecosystem. The future does not belong to those who posess the most knowledge, but to those who are able to understand how and where that knowledge could be applied.

My most revolutionary contribution to education is the extensive use of professional mailing list tools to teach a course: this is the most effective (albeit labour intensive and not always efficient…) approach to provide learning feedback to students on an individual basis, answering to their problems when they are ready for it. This best practice comes directly from my long-term, intensive immersion in, and contributions to, the “open source” community.

In Europe

In 2012, I created the European PhD School in Robotics Systems, that has the ambition to teach students how to understand the whole domain of cognitive robotics in five days, and how to approach the research, implementation and application challenges in designing and developing such robotic systems in a methodological way.

My senior research staff

Senior research expert


Working with me

Progress comes from fierce and ruthless confrontation of ideas, not of people

If you want to come and work with me, I expect you to be a full-time user of Linux, advanced editors (such as Vim or Emacs), Inkscape, Blender, version control systems (e.g., subversion or git), LaTex (for documents as well as presentations). Contributions to Free and Open Source Software projects are very much stimulated, and (more than weekly) contributions to “a friendly Wikipedia page near you” are mandatory.

The most important thing I can offer to potential post docs is a lot of opportunities to get immersed into the most vibrant core of the European robotics research scene, including lots of interactions with some dozens of the best groups in Europe and worldwide.

Take all criticism seriously but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

I am a firm believer in the maturity and responsibility of PhD students. Hence, I do not want to be their “supervisor” but rather their “coach”. In return, I expect them to always have a clear idea about where exactly they want to go with their research. My rule of thumb for a PhD student is to have 2–3 research hypotheses written out in full, at all times. They need them, not only to explain to visitors what their research is all about, but also to keep their strength and self-confidence, since I flood them continuously with (potentially) good ideas, papers and software, with constructive criticism, and with stimuli to “think weird” and “desgin big”. I do realise that such a turmoil of scientific discussions and doubts can take some time to adapt to, and requires strong nerves to keep one's research focus, but I do not apologize for this behaviour of mine, because:

I do not have a Skype account, nor am I part of asocial media such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. And I am not planning to get those accounts, because of ethical and pragmatic principles: these initiatives introduce proprietary protocols and/or prevent inter-community, multi-vendor communication, and such things are known to create monopolies, and hence prevent fair markets of VOIP or social networking as emerging communication instruments. It's only 30 years ago that our society succeeded to escape from under the traditional telecom monopolies, but it seems not to have learned anything from those experiences…

I am prepared to pay a price for fairness and freedom; I suggest to use the facilities offered by the free market of teleconferencing via the traditional telephone line and to use open VOIP protocols. Or, preferably, use Open Standards formats, such as WebRTC, which I have good although limited experiences with.

I am strongly convinced of the long-term advantages of using only Open Standards in all ICT matters: vendor independence, software independence, better chances of long-term archiving, stimulation of better decoupled ICT solutions, etc. So, please, send me only plain text, HTML, PDF, or ODF messages and documents in your electronic communication.

Student internships

ICT empowerment is about much more than just using a computer for what you did 20 years ago already with pen, paper and file cabinets. It's all about standing on the shoulders of thousands and thousands of open source midgets, and, especially, about throwing out that Outlook programme of yours, because it only supports top posting, sigh…

This page has a list of topics for Summer internships, or stages, which I would very much like to supervise. I welcome Master students from universities as well as technical high schools. I'm especially interested in computer-literate students (Linux, C++, Java), who want to contribute to Free and Open Source Software projects to make them better suited for robotics.


My background


If you are really concerned about a better world, get rid of your car and become a vegetarian: all other options are irresponsible wastes of energy and health.


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