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Roger Quinn

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Manuela Veloso

Roy Walford

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Photo of Roger Quinn Meet Roger D. Quinn.

He's teamed up with biologist Roy Ritzmann to design and build a robot that imitates the cockroach, an insect with superior locomotion. How cool is that?!
Question What inspired you to become an engineer and to design robots?
Answer All of my immediate family members are engineers, so studying engineering was an easy decision. My father and older brothers taught me to fix mechanical things as I grew up, and this taught me much about how things work. I moved from bicycles to motorcycles to cars. Mechanical engineering was a natural choice, and I found that I really enjoyed it.

I studied the dynamics and controls of spacecraft in graduate school. Spacestation, as it was envisioned then, was designed to be large, flexible, and to have many joints. This research prepared me for a move to robotics research. In fact, my first robotics work was in robots for the space station. Randy Beer (Computer Science) and Hillel Chiel (Biology), also at CWRU [Case Western Reserve University], initiated our program in biologically inspired control. In 1990, they invited Roy Ritzmann (Biology at CWRU) and me to form a new group with them in biologically inspired robotics. The prospect of learning from legged animals how to build and control better-legged robots seemed very exciting, and most importantly we had the team to do it properly. We have been working together since that time and it has been a very satisfying and enjoyable project.
Question What do you do during a typical day at work?
Answer I teach classes that form some of the fundamentals for robotics and I meet with students to discuss their class work and work on research problems. The research groups for our various projects also meet regularly. Unfortunately, I also do some tedious paperwork associated with a large organization such as CWRU and with managing research projects.
Question What do you enjoy most about your work? Is there anything about it you don't like?
Answer I enjoy working with my colleagues (students and faculty) on biorobotics research. I like the work and I like the people I work with. I don't enjoy the more tedious paperwork, although with electronic communication this is less burdensome. (I look forward to a paperless office.)
Question If I'm a student thinking about a career designing and building robots, what can I do now to prepare?
Answer Read, study and enjoy science and math. Tinker with mechanical and electronic devices. Learn how they operate and why.
Question Is there anything else you'd like to let Frontiers viewers know about yourself or your career?
Answer The coolest career is the one that you enjoy the most. My colleague, Roy Ritzmann, says that a good day is one after which you can go home and say to yourself, "That was fun." For example, you have discovered something new or started a new project in an area that you would like to work. In a good career, you will have many good days.

If you would like to know more about Roger Quinn, you can read a brief biography. You can also read his answers to questions that were asked during the Ask the Scientists feature for Natural Born Robots.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.