Design of a bio-inspired optical compass to estimate the heading of a portable opto-electronic system

  • Posted on: 9 July 2020
  • By: serres
  • Updated on: 9 July 2020
Type recrutement: 
61 (Génie informatique, automatique et traitement du signal)
63 (Génie électrique, électronique, photonique et systèmes)
Entité et lieu: 
Institut des Sciences du Mouvement UMR7287, Aix Marseille Université, Campus Luminy, Marseille, France
Urgent ?: 

PhD position (CIFRE)

Topics: Design of a bio-inspired optical compass to estimate the heading of a portable opto-electronic system.

ISM supervisors: Julien SERRES (AMU Senior Lecturer) and Stéphane VIOLLET (CNRS Research Director)

SAFRAN supervisor: Yacine OTHMANI

When it comes to navigating outdoors autonomously, the GPS system plays an important role for any navigation system. Nowadays, it is possible to find complete navigation systems on the shelf that integrate GPS, IMU and magnetic compass for a footprint of only 2x2cm2 and a weight of 5 grams. However, there are circumstances where GPS does not work properly (urban canyons, tunnels...) and where the earth's magnetic field is too disturbed to provide a reliable heading measurement. It is precisely to overcome these problems that we propose to develop an optical compass based on a bio-inspired principle derived from behavioural studies carried out on the Cataglyphis desert ant [1].  This animal has a particular area (called the dorsal rim area) in the dorsal part of its visual field that is sensitive to polarized light from the sky [2]. In addition, SAFRAN Electronics & Defense produces optronic observation systems for various uses. These observation systems require knowledge of their position and orientation in order to calculate the coordinates of the observed points. Portable systems (binoculars) must also remain light and consume little power. To date, there is no sensor that can determine the direction of the binoculars very quickly and in all environmental conditions.

The aim of this thesis work will be to show that it is possible to measure an orientation with respect to the sky with very good accuracy, i.e. compatible with defence applications, by exploiting properties of sunlight scattered from the sky, such as the polarization of light in the blue and ultraviolet. The thesis will also aim to finely characterize the physical phenomenon, examine its variants, design technological systems that can be transposed to SAFRAN products and determine their performance under various environmental conditions. The thesis work will be based on recent ISM developments concerning the implementation of a celestial compass for robotics [3].

Duration: 36 months


Net salary: ~2000€/month


Engineering schools, internationally renowned master's degree from the top 10 national universities.

Knowledge in Optics, Instrumentation, Analog Electronics and Signal Processing,

Taste for experimentation,

Excellent level of English (written and spoken), TOEIC > 830.

Please send a CV and cover letter to:

Julien SERRES (,

Stéphane VIOLLET (, Biorobotics Group

Institut des Sciences du Mouvement (ISM, UMR 7287 CNRS-AMU), Campus de Luminy, Marseille

Contact e-mail:,


[1] R. Wehner. (2008). The Desert Ant’s Navigational Toolkit: Procedural Rather than Positional Knowledge, Journal of The Institute of Navigation, Vol. 55, No. 2, 101-114.

[2] M.L Brines, and J.L. Gould. (1982). Skylight polarization patterns and animal orientation. Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 96, No. 1, 69–91.

[3] J. Dupeyroux, J. Serres and S. Viollet (2019). AntBot: A six-legged walking robot able to home like desert ants in outdoor environments, Science Robotics, Vol. 4, No. 27, eaau0307.