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Marek Perkowski
Marek Perkowski

Mr. Roboto

Bringing quantum computing to life

Marek Perkowski has a lot of company in his Intelligent Robotics lab in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Albert Einstein is there, and a Confucian scholar from Korea. Nobel laureate Niels Bohr, and Schroedinger Cat share space with a six-legged insect. They all have one thing in common—they're robots.

"My ideal is to build the improvisational robot Muppet theater," the electrical and computer engineering professor says. He has come close, developing a Portland Cyber Theater where these robotic creations can move through obstacles, fight each other, and perform.

Students ranging from high schoolers to doctoral candidates work on problems of motion control (including emotional behavior) and sensing speech and images. Say hello to one robot, and it will bow deeply and ask how you are doing. Another creation smiles when it accomplishes a task successfully.

If it seems like Perkowski's lab is all fun and games, don't be fooled. His background is in "digital design": synthesizing networks of logic gates that allow computer hardware to function. This led to an interest in quantum computing, a mostly theoretical field that promises exponential increases in processing speed, making our electronics of today look like the mechanical behemoths of 19th century inventor Charles Babbage.

Perkowski has former students who are now researchers in quantum computing groups at top universities around the world. Someday, one of them may develop robots controlled by quantum computers. For now, his Ph.D. students are creating quantum algorithms that learn to perceive and manipulate robot environments.

"I always dreamed from childhood about building intelligent robots," Perkowski says. With the help of Einstein and the rest of his lab's robotic (and human) residents, he's making progress towards that dream.

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