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James  McLurkin

James McLurkin

Senior Hardware Engineer at Google

James McLurkin

Senior Hardware Engineer at Google


As a child, James McLurkin was constantly building with LEGO bricks, cardboard boxes, or any other materials he could access. Today, he continues this tradition using Mother Nature as a model, researching and developing algorithms and techniques for constructing and programming large swarms of autonomous robots.

James McLurkin is a Senior Hardware Engineer at Google and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rice University. He researches distributed algorithms for multi-agent systems, which is software that produces 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. In order to test these ideas, he has lead research teams using some of the largest groups of robots in the world. Previously, McLurkin was a Lead Research Scientist at iRobot, and was the 2003 recipient of the Lemelson-MIT student prize for invention. He holds a S.B. in Electrical Engineering with a Minor in Mechanical Engineering from M.I.T., a M.S. in Electrical Engineering from University of California, Berkeley, and a S.M. and Ph.D. in Computer Science from M.I.T.

As an independent consultant, McLurkin has advised many mechanical and engineering projects for clients such as Walt Disney Imagineering, Sensable Technologies, and MicroDisplay Corp. As a speaker for organizations such as Interval Research, Inc., Dartmouth College, LEGO Advanced Design Center, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers, he is dedicated to illustrating the fun and excitement in science and engineering.

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." 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.

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 continues to follow his passion. "My goal is to understand where intelligence comes from, how it works, and how to construct artificial intelligence on real robots."

Speaker Videos

Artificial Intelligence | Google Developers

On the Future of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

Robots and Autonomous Machines

Speech Topics

Dances with Robots: The Story of One Engineer, 112 Little Robots, & the Toys, Insects, & Star Wars Movies that Made it all Possible

The presentation starts with a lighthearted look at society's views on robots, Hollywood's portrayal of them, the current state of the art, and the future of the technology. Philosophical questions about the nature of intelligence are discussed, as they pose serious problems for the creation of artificially intelligent devices. The final conclusion? Robots are phenomenally stupid and we should be more concerned about the next asteroid strike than a robotic rebellion. In spite of this, robots are still useful, and swarms are the future of robotics. McLurkin explains the need for swarms of robots and the technology required to produce their group behaviors. Live robot demonstrations and video clips of the swarm in action punctuate these main points. The presentation concludes with an autobiographical sketch that traces the events, ideas, and toys that have influenced McLurkin's career. Starting with cardboard boxes and tape, moving through LEGO and video games, this high-energy slide show concludes with a behind-the-scenes look at the construction of the iRobot Swarm.

The End of the World & Other Misconceptions: The Truth About Robotics

The Future of Robotics & Swarm Robot Applications

Engineering Creativity: Exercises for the Right Brain

Lifting as You Climb & Other Every Day Responsibilities of the Minority Professional