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McLurkin gets Cool Idea Award


James McLurkin, assistant professor of computer science at Rice University, has received from a Cool Idea! Award from Proto Labs to help produce low-cost robots for engineering undergraduates.

Based in Maple Plain, Minn., Proto Labs advertises itself as the “world’s fastest” manufacturer of “custom CNC (computer numerical control) machine machined parts and injection molded parts.”


McLurkin will receive up to $100,000 worth of prototyping and production services to be used for robot production. Shortly after joining the Rice faculty in 2009, began designing his own model, the R-One. It can be programmed for different levels of learning but is inexpensive enough to be used in a K-12 program.

“I want robots to be as popular as scientific calculators,” McLurkin said. “I want to support a curriculum where every student has their own robot and can study individual lessons, and where they can also work in teams -- using their robots collectively in multi-robot systems.”

From 1999 to 2003, McLurkin was the technical lead and project manager at iRobot Corp., where he managed the DARPA-funded Swarm Robotics project. He earned a Ph.D. in computer science in 2008 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.