Apply for the scholarship at Heriot-Watt

About the Project

Rapid emissions reductions[1] require transition of personal transport and freight, and reduction of energy in buildings and embedded in vehicles, and construction in urban areas. All these emissions sources converge in complex ways in the urban form and activity systems. Research in urban geography, transport and urban design have been highlighting the complex problems with the car-dominated human geography, equity and wellbeing, and current institutions’ inability to solve these problems.[2] Transport planning delivers automobile mobility and road-centred urban forms[3] through a complex interplay of profit taking, politics of public infrastructure, land speculation and property development.[4]

This research project asks the question: “How can we engineer a virtual exploration and digital economy that delivers a system by which urban residents and businesses fit into the urban form, downshift the need for cars and fossil energy use and regenerate urban environments?”

People gravitate to urban places because of the rich activity web. The urban activity web includes work, school, food, outdoor spaces, community and social activities, and government and medical services. Our preliminary investigations have shown that the ability of households to find a residential location that is affordable and situated within their activity webs, so that they do not require a personal vehicle, is severely limited under the current market and development institutions.

We propose that a new kind of “PlaceFinder” Data Exchange, Modellization and Observatory (DEMO) platform  can improve the probability that a household can fit within their activity web. It is possible to build a GIS interactive interface based on Google Maps that allows residents to build their activity web using some kind of entertaining or informative interaction. Once the activity web is mapped, residents can explore their adaptive capacity for being able to enjoin a car-free lifestyle and to “shop” for virtual properties that optimise their affordable activity web. The aggregate data from the PlaceFinder DEMO platform will be essential for modelling housing availability, public and business opportunities and to drive investment. Development zones, transition of car transport infrastructure, and policies can be informed by the aggregate results. The game aspect of the PlaceFinder DEMO will create the transition experience of the city.

The research will be carried out with Aquatera who will provide the route to commercial development at scale. Aquatera are partners with the Islands Centre for Net Zero (ICNZ). EMEC is the project manager for the ICNZ including the Transition Lab PlaceFinder_DEMO project.

M1- Background Research into the system (market, regulation, social capacities) for gaining access to housing.  

M2- Frameworks for performance metrics.

M3-   Carry out the InTIME Design for the housing crisis wicked problem and fully develop the PlaceFinder DEMO concept

M4-  Implement the concept with a commercial partner and test functionality.

M5-  Analyse the data and improve the DEMO

M6-  Critical examination of the results and developing conclusions.

M7-   Conduct business and council workshops for the Scottish Highlands and Islands

M8 – Publish and disseminate the findings

The supervisory team brings the following skill sets to the project:

Susan Krumdieck: Energy Transition Engineering, Transport systems, Transport as an energy system, Urban form and energy, Community activity systems


The project is funded for 3.5 years and covers the PhD fees and stipend (currently £18 622 per annum). The project will be carried out as part of the Islands Centre for Net Zero Transition Lab activities based in the Scottish Islands, and located at the HWU Orkney ICIT campus, and with future collaboration with the HWU Net Zero GRI. The project will be part of the Entrepreneurial effort of the ICNZ and will be aimed at commercialisation of the developed IP.


This project is available to UK/Home students. The successful candidate will have a B.Sc. (2:1 or higher) and M.Sc. (distinction) or equivalent, and ideally additional experience in computer science, engineering, ideally with some experience of applying these skills to other disciplines (e.g. in social sciences, transport, urban form, buildings and built environment, community activities). You will have good programming skills, preferably in Python, ArcGIS, game development or other advanced programming languages. Knowledge of transportation engineering, building energy science, or freight supply chain would be beneficial. You will be highly self-motivated and confident enough to seek out solutions beyond the current team if required. You must be able to describe complex issues to the range of stakeholders.

How to apply

To apply you must complete our online application form.

Please select PhD Environment as the programme and include the full project title, reference number and supervisor name on your application form. Ensure that all fields marked as ‘required’ are complete.

Once have entered your personal details, click submit. You will be asked to upload your supporting documents. You must complete the section marked project proposal; provide a supporting statement (1-2 A4 pages) documenting your reasons for applying to this particular project, outlining your suitability and how you would approach the project. You must also upload your CV, a copy of your degree certificate and relevant transcripts and an academic reference in the relevant section of the application form.

Please contact Prof Susan Krumdieck () for further information or an informal discussion.


The closing date for applications is 25th August 2023, with interviews held in mid-September. Applicants must be available to start the PhD by January 2024 at the latest, or sooner.