herman.bruyninckx (@) kuleuven.be
ORCID identity: 0000-0003-3776-1025

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

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

Dr. Herman Bruyninckx

KU Leuven
Mechanical Engineering

KU Leuven logo
      Eindhoven University of Technology
Mechanical Engineering

TU/e logo

Full Professor (Gewoon Hoogleraar) at the KU Leuven since October 2013, and partime at Eindhoven University of Technology since February 2014.

How to reach Leuven. My locations in Leuven and in Eindhoven on OpenStreetMap.


My research takes place in close cooperation with Erwin Aertbeliën, Wilm Decré. Joris De Schutter, Goele Pipeleers, Jan Swevers, and René van de Molengraft, and a manageably small set of PhD students and postdocs. But, please, don't blame them for my mistakes or confusions.

I focus on integrating, into robots, as much formally represented domain knowledge as possible (the holy grail of the mythical “robotics ontology”…), especially for realtime algorithms and other software close to the hardware, the controller(s) and the sensor(s). My major research questions are:

Our robots should pass the “Trustworthy Turing Test”, by always being able to answer the following questions:
What am I doing?
Why am I doing it?
How, and how well, am I doing it?
What could I have been doing instead, and still be useful?

The robotics community seems not to be interested in realising this ambition, hence preparing itself for a Robotics Winter
  1. How can knowledge-driven (“affordance-based”) robot programming, perception and learning be made more realtime, while still taking into account more prior knowledge about the tasks, the robots, the objects they interact with, and the environment they have to survive in?

    Preliminary answer: by exploiting Bayesian information theory to model all sensory-motor interactions, and to embed their runtime exploitation by means of model-predictive controllers and moving-horizon estimators.

    Summary of results: the information and software architectures for the motion stack and the perception stack of robotics systems-of-systems are extremely similar, composable and formally verifiable. The “knowledge” is represented as constraints between parameters in the Bayesian model. The traditional Bayesian model is extended to be hierarchical, in the sense that it must be possible to let different sets of knowledge constraints apply to different parts of the Bayesian model; this is a pragmatic way to introduce the all-important concept of “context”.

  2. What are the formal Domain Specific Languages (DSLs) that can make the knowledge representation (and hence the programming of robots) a lot more easy? And, at the same time, a lot more semantically consistent, and (hence!) deterministic, and (hence?) verifiable, and (hence!) certifiable, and (hence?) societally trustworthy.

    Science is never value-free!
    Trustworthy robots can never be science-free!

    Preliminary answer: by creating lots of small ontologies, with their Primitives, Relationships, Constraints and Tolerances encoded in languages such as JSON-LD, that support N-ary relationships and context-specific hierarchical composition as first-class citizens.

    Think weird,
    design big,
    implement small,
    cooperate globally,
    exploit locally!

    Summary of results: I was a key creator of the BRICS Component Model, and of its successor the System Composition Pattern, which is a scientific paradigm to support the design, development, deployment and runtime adaptation of complex robotics and other cyber-physical) systems.

  3. Which new design paradigm can provide cheap, light and safe (hence, “lousy”) robot hardware? This is a necessary evolution before robotics platforms can become a commodity.

    Preliminary answer: confidential, for now.

  4. “Sense-Plan-Act” and “Subsumption Architectures” are things of the past in robotics, to be replaced by the “Every robot task is a constraint-optimization problem” paradigm, that links continuous, discrete and symbolic knowledge, at runtime, and all the time.
  5. How should robot control software be developed in the future? And can we make it cope with the exploding complexity in knowledge, task variations, and distribution over several sub-systems?

    Preliminary answer: (i) by systematically applying a small set of system-of-systems composition patterns, and (ii) by generating the robots' motions more and more by preview and precognitive control.

    Preview control extends Model-predictive Control (MPC) (and its estimation dual Moving Horizon Estimation) by adding a symbolic part to the numerical robot state. The latter is optimized in the MPC, by solving Constrained Optimization Problem using finite horizons over time and state space. The MPC state in itself can already be “hybrid”, in that it contains discrete as well as continuous parts; the symbolic part is involved in a “Constraint Satisfaction Problem” which is solved by reasoning systems and extends the MPC with a closed world of knowledge relationships (which is the symbolic equivalent of a “finite horizon”).

    Deprecated answer: I started the Open RObot COntrol Software (OROCOS) project in 2001, with later “spin-off” projects Kinematics and Dynamics Library (KDL) and Bayesian Filtering Library (BFL). My first PhD student on this material, Peter Soetens, started his spin-off company Intermodalics in 2010, on the basis of his unique expertise with the Orocos code.


Current international projects in the European Union's H2020 Programme: Esrocos (H2020-ESA cooperation, 2016–2019), Ropod (2017–2020. coordinated by Nico Hübel), RobMoSys (2017–2021, coordinated by Johan Philips), SportsTechLab (2016–2017, coordinated by Johan Philips).

A wealth of fundamental problems lie waiting for scientific solutions in daily industrial practice, for anyone who takes the effort to discover them.

Lessons learned from past 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. In Pick-n-Pack (2012–2016), the insights gained in the above-mentioned projects were turned into innovative software solutions, in the context of “robotics” food production lines. RoboHow (2012–2016) complemented the above-mentioned ones by (preliminary versions of) formal representations of the knowledge of robot motions and tasks. Sherpa (2013–2017) and the ongoing H2020 projects allow the positively brutal confrontation of our insights with the real world of various challenging application domains, and with the strong but highly justified requirements from end-users and industrial integrators.


Bibliometrics-driven science policies have created a schism between scientists and society, hindering the impact and application of scientifc research, and the creation of new paradigms and added-value innovation.
This schism is painfully visible by the lack of a decent answer to valid questions like ``In which documents can I find the state-of-the-art in robotics?''

Contact me to get electronic copies of my publications.

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 refined into the 5Cs: Computation, Communication, Coordination, Composition, and Configuration.

The first “real” publication about the 5Cs was 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.

A more complete paper on the 5Cs, and on how to use them not just for separation but also for constructive composition has been published in JOSER: The 5C-based architectural Composition Pattern: lessons learned from re-developing the iTaSC framework for constraint-based robot programming, Dominick Vanthienen, Markus Klotzbuecher, Herman Bruyninckx, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2014.

A copy of the documentation of Markus Klotzbücher's rFSM package on Github can be found here.

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…

both in the Master of Mechanical Engineering. 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 typically 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 to apply that knowledge.

My most “revolutionary” contribution to education is to use professional mailing lists as first-class teaching tool: 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.


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

Sebastian Blumenthal (with Erwin Prassler, Bonn-Rhine-Sieg University, Germany, and Locomotec GmbH, Germany), Semantic, distributed and dynamical world models for a heterogeneous robotic system-of-systems.

Francesco Cenni (with Kaat Desloovere en Erwin Aertbeliën), A framework for advanced quantitative measurements in the clinical workflow for movement disorders.

Sven Schneider, Composable solvers for robot motion.

Senior research staff

PhD alumni

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 and HTML5 (for documents as well as present/ations). Contributions to Free and Open Source Software projects are very much stimulated, and (more than weekly) contributions to “a friendly Wikipedia page in your neighbourhood” 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 Dutch-Flemish robotics research scene, including lots of interactions with dozens of the other robotics groups in Europe.

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 master and PhD students. Hence, I do not want to be their “supervisor” but rather their “more experienced colleague”. In return, I expect them always to 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 (only potentially) good ideas, papers and software, with constructive criticism, and with stimuli to “think weird” and “design 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. However, I do not apologize for this behaviour of mine.

I do not have a Skype account, nor do I take part in asocial media. 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 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, and user-friendly implementations of it such as JitsiMeet'.

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 and master theses

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…

I welcome Master students from universities all over Europe, and I'm especially interested in computer-literate students (Linux, C, Lua, HTML5, and, to a lesser extent, “everything and the kitchen sink” wrong-level languages such C++ or Java), who want to contribute to Free and Open Source Software projects to make them better suited for robotics.


From 2008 to 2015, I have been leading the robotics community in Europe, first as Coordinator of the seminal network EURON, and in 2013–2015 as Vice-President Research of the euRobotics association.

Doctor honoris causa (“√¶resdoktor”) of the University of Southern Denmark (Syddansk Universitet, Odense, Denmark), on October 3, 2014.

From its inception in 2000, I have been a member of the Jury for the (then “EURON” now “euRobotics”) Georges Giralt PhD Award. From 2008 till 2014, I acted as the Chairman of this Jury.

Professor at KU Leuven since October 2008.
Associate Professor at KU Leuven since October 2003.
April–August 1999: sabatical with the Robotics group at Stanford University, with Prof. Oussama Khatib.
July–August 2002: visiting the Centre for Autonomous Systems at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, with Prof. Henrik Christensen.
Assistant Professor at KU Leuven since October 1998.
Mar. 1996–Aug. 1996: Postdoc at GRASP Lab, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, U.S.A., with Vijay Kumar.
1995–2003: Postdoctoral Fellow of the Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders (FWO.) in Belgium.
1989–1995: Research Assistant at the University of Leuven, Department of Mechanical Engineering. PhD (1995), Kinematic Models for Robot Compliant Motion with Identification of Uncertainties, under supervision of Joris De Schutter. [abstract] [A4 paper, gzipped PostScript]
Military service (1988–1989).
Master-after-Master Mechatronics (1988).
Master (“Burgerlijk Ingenieur”) Computer Science (1987).
Master (“Licentiate”) Mathematics (1984).
Deployed to the world: 22 December 1962, Turnhout, Belgium.


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.

Some people with a long memory are so bold as to claim that my presentation at the 2007 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Rome, helped a lot to make Free and Open Source Software become a first-class competitor to proprietary offerings by robot vendors.


Copyleft 1997–2017, Herman Bruyninckx

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