PSU’s Dr Perkowski strikes again: “LEGOs for adults.”

Dr. Perkowski love robots. And he wants you to love them, too. Photo by Jinyi Qi of the PSU Vanguard.


arek Perkowski is a professor at Portland State University, and has gotten our attention before for his impressive show of dedication in teaching “Quantum Robotics Sunday School” to high school students.

This time, he’s gotten our attention because of another catchy name he’s come up with: LEGOs for adults. He said that you can find all the parts you need to build a real robot at a local hardware store.

To be a better robot performer, this one wears a Korean theater mask. Photo by Jinyi Qi of the PSU Vanguard.

A PSU journalist spoke with the professor, who explained his idea. He was doing a presentation on what he calls “Portland Cyber Theatre,” which in his own words is an “initiative to build the first complete interactive theatre of humanoid robots.”

Sound awesome? It is: check out this video of Japanese cyber theater (English supertitles behind the stage). The pace is kind of slow (some types of Japanese theater are just like that.) But remember that these robots perform all choreography and lines on their own—they’re responding fluidly to the live actors onstage.

What Professor Perkowski has been doing is a little different. Rather than just making a robot that can respond correctly with pre-determined choreography and lines, he wants to make a robot which can actually interact dramatically on its own. You don’t program them, you teach them,” he said.

He believes that robots are “great adventures.” As such, they’re a good gateway into the world of logic and programming, because you can actually see your work embodied. And that’s awesome.

Here’s what we mean:

Construction of the Korean-mask robot.

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Link dump 6/29

It’s been a while since we’ve had a good link dump, so check out these awesome CS and engineering blurbs from across the internet!

Here's a US Navy photo of the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone. A drone like this was hacked by UT.

This is what DARPA’s Zombie Satellite program aims to do.

OSU Students have some great senior engineering projects

The platform on top of that RC car is a "collision mitigation platform," to safe the car itself during a wreck.


very year, senior-year engineering students work on a huge project and show it off to the world before they graduate. All of them are interesting and unique projects, and are meant to demonstrate that you have come far enough in your education to actually do something awesome.

Here are a couple we think deserve your attention, which show the wide range of subjects you can cover in your senior project.

You've seen these before; it's a solar powered steam generator. The curved mirrors reflect the sun's light straight onto the tube, which boils water inside and creates enough pressure to move a turbine.

(Sorry, no picture for this one)—The “Walk on the Wildside” smartphone app was made by three computer science majors and it gives a virtual, self-guided tour of the Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center, which is near Grant’s Pass down at the South end of the state. According to one of its makers, it can show you around the center, tell you about the animals there, and tell you about what Wildlife Images (the group) does. Check out the app’s Google Play page.

But don’t forget about other universities! Read about how some PSU engineering students won the world’s first Cornell Cup USA.

PSU’s Business Accelerator helps you grow your own engineering company

The Portland State Business Accelerator sounds, on its face, like something for a Business major. And in a way, it is. It’s a business incubator, which is a facility that helps startup businesses grow, so you’ve got to have a running business if you want to get help from it.

PSBA is just a little off campus from PSU, and helps startup tech businesses grow

But this business incubator is different. PSBA is focused specifically on technological-innovation businesses, so if you want its help you’ve got to be in the world of engineering and innovation.

Which means a business major might not be enough if you want to get your idea through PSBA. Have you considered a minor in business with a major in engineering, or even a double major in business and engineering?

Some people really enjoy doing the tedious trials and tests and redesigns—and that’s how they do their part to be engineers. These are the kinds of people who might like puzzle games—they’re addicted to solving little complex problems. But there are also people who like creating a creature that can do these innovations on its own. These are the kinds of people who might like playing games like Sim City—little problems are great, but the big issues are what stop the big progress.

If you’re a PSU student or plan on becoming one, there are also internships available through the companies incubated at PSBA if you don’t plan on starting your own. It’s a great way to move from the university world to the working world—a transition that can be difficult for a lot of students.

PSBA offers office space, research labs, and several other resources to growing businesses. If you’re the type of person who likes engineering because you have have good ideas that you want to share, starting your own business might be for you. And if that’s the route you want to take, consider a minor in business, or even a double major, and check out PSU’s opportunities.

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In Oregon there is no ‘under-served.”

There’s always a big battle going on to help even the odds for the people who have hills to fight up—whether it’s homelife, finances, some social issue or something else, some people just have it a bit tougher.

One thing that Oregon knows is that people with hills to fight up wind up being stronger, if they manage to get to the top. In other words, they’re really good engineers because they have the experience of fighting up that hill on top of getting the same knowledge everyone is supposed to have. And they’re passionate, because they don’t want anyone else to have to fight up that same hill.

That’s why Oregon is so great about helping out the under-served engineers. Aside from having a great and active engineering and CS community across the state, we have a ton of programs like Girls Get IT! which is actually made by a student, and a pretty active NCWIT community too, and programs to get kids into engineering.

But this isn’t just about women, either. Hispanic students are notorious for being good programmers and engineers, but being very underrepresented for one reason or another. But Hispanic enrollment at SOU just went up by 25%.

In fact, minority enrollment in general, in Oregon, is climbing steadily [pdf].

What it boils down to is this: if you’ve got it hard, for whatever reason, Oregon is a good place to be if you want to succeed. And once you get up there, you’ll be welcomed as part of the already-diverse crowd of engineers we’ve got.

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Engineering makes science and research possible at PSU

Engineering is all about making real, legitimate upgrades to some part of the world. Whether it’s increasing the awesome somewhere, or helping to decrease the suck someplace else—and both are truly virtuous deeds—it’s always about making an improvement. And that improvement always has a purpose.

When construction was just getting started on SB2. Those red pipes weren't there before.

One of PSU’s science buildings, once simply named “Science Building 2,” was built in 1971. Back then, it was pretty much state of the art. A little over a decade later in 1982, it was renovated to be kept up-to-date. But since then, it hadn’t been touched.

A 30-year-old science building isn’t quite appealing. Not just because of worn-out floor tiles or dusty ceilings, but because the equipment is out of date, and the efficiency of the place is only as good as it was three decades ago. In other words, much less efficient than a new building would be.

Well, PSU calculated that it would cost about $130 million to completely rebuild the place, but only about $45 million to completely renovate it again. The latter of those prices is a lot more doable for a big university. And so, they did it.

Thanks to skilled engineers working at IDC Architects, Brightworks, Research Facilities Design, Degenkolb Engineers, Northwest Engineering Services, and of course many PSU folks involved in the project, the building got a huge upgrade. These are all people who may have gone into this building to get the education they’re now using to fix the place up. Talk about a return on investment.

Oh, so shiny. A lot of the upgrades were underground or between the walls.

Now, the newly named Science Research & Teaching Center is LEED gold, which is always a plus; this renovation is supposed to save PSU about $400,000 a year in energy costs. They’re using geothermal energy, with large underground tubes for air to pass through, which helps regulate temperature. On top of that, there are only four rooftop fans rather than the very very many fans (basically one for each of the 200 chemistry fume vents) they had previously.

SRTC is the home of the following:

  • Intel Environmental Science Teaching Laboratory — fosters graduate students working with agencies, consulting, engineering firms and manufacturers.
  • Center for Life In Extreme Environments — The grant-funded lab explores life in underseas volcanoes, hot springs, urban environments and other extreme settings.
  • McDougall Center — The center is equipped to link natural science research with computational mathematics.
  • PGE Foundation Renewable Energy Lab — The lab explores research on renewable energy, including development of new polymer-based technology for the solar industry.
  • Rippey Organic Chemistry Teaching Lab — The lab serves chemistry and health students preparing for admission to Oregon Health & Science University.
  • Rae Selling Berry Seed Bank and Plant Conservation Program — The building serves as the new home to the Berry Botanical Garden collection, a protected repository of seeds from rare and endangered native plants.

Check out the PSU report on the upgrade and read about the people who worked on it at You can also check out the IDC Architects page on the project. They’ve got a good news article about the engineering success of the renovation.

If you’re still in high school, you yourself might end up using SRTC if you got to PSU for your engineering degree. This most recent renovation is expected to increase the lifespan of the building by around 40 years, but it might need an upgrade sooner. How quaint would that be, if you wound up working the next upgrade yourself…

College goes spacebound: PSU’s doing experiments on the ISS

It’s no surprise that PSU is a great place for engineers. Besides a really great sustainability department, there are some professors who really throw themselves at what they do by teaching at multiple levels.

The International Space Station: Facility of international earthen experiments

As it happens, PSU has also got myriad programs to make use of their awesome facilities. For example, one room in PSU’s engineering building is currently being used to monitor an experiment they’re conducting on the International Space Station.

And true to the nature of the ISS, it’s an international project. PSU is working with the University of Bremen, a German school. Because of time zone differences, the project can get the 24-hour management it needs.

The project itself is pretty cool, too. The two schools ares testing how fluids (fuel, in this case) behave in space, to reduce the amount of bubbling (which is bad, and common in zero-gravity) and increase efficiency.

It’s a big step up from the drop-towers both PSU and University of Bremen have, which can only give a few seconds of zero-gravity.

All the equipment for this experiment was sent up via space shuttle last year, but just got set up a bit less than a month ago, and data only started getting collected on the 21st of September. The data collection will continue through the 15th, and maybe as late as the 29th.


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