Thursday, February 25, 2016
As a child, James McLurkin was constantly building with LEGO® bricks, boxes or any materials he could access. Today, using Mother Nature as a model, he researches and develops algorithms and techniques for constructing and programming large swarms of autonomous robots.
A leader in the field of robotics, McLurkin is an assistant professor at Rice University in the Department of Computer Science. His research focuses on developing distributed algorithms for multi-robot systems—software producing complex group behaviors from the interactions of many simple individuals. These ideas are not new: ants, bees, wasps and termites have been running this type of software for 120 million years.
His research group has one of the largest collections of robots in the world, with over 200 robots in use. SwarmBots were originally created during his tenure as lead research scientist at iRobot.
He holds a BS in electrical engineering with a minor in mechanical engineering from MIT, an MS in electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MS in computer science from MIT. He is currently pursuing a PhD in computer science at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
In 2003, McLurkin received the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, which is awarded to burgeoning MIT student inventors. Also in 2003, he was recognized by Time magazine as one of five leading robotics engineers in their “Rise of the Machines” feature and by Black Enterprise magazine as a “Best and Brightest Under 40.” Previously, in 2002, he was featured in the Lemelson Center’s nationwide interactive traveling exhibit, “Invention at Play,” which began at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
As an independent consultant, McLurkin has advised many mechanical and engineering projects for clients such as Walt Disney Imagineering, SensAble Technologies, Inc. and MicroDisplay Corp. As a speaker, he is dedicated to illustrating the fun and excitement in science and engineering.
McLurkin is a native of Baldwin, New York, where his parents were very encouraging and began cultivating his inventiveness and engineering prowess at a young age. From LEGO bricks to BMX bicycling to programming self-designed video games, he quickly became consumed by his passion for engineering.
“I remember when I was in the 7th grade and saw the MIT 2.70 Design Competition on a NOVA special. I thought, wow, that's the coolest thing on the planet,” he said. “I was amazed at the machines they were building and the intensity of the competition, and I realized that's where I wanted to go to school."
Years later in 2005, McLurkin himself was featured on NOVA: pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/james-mclurkin.html