Peter McOwan: Professor of Computer Science

We speak with Peter McOwan, Professor of Computer Science at Queen Mary University London. Here he tells us about his fascination with robotics and how he’s not out to rule the world.

Peter McOwan: Professor of Computer Science

Hi Peter McOwan! What is your job and what is the most exciting part about the work that you do?

I build robots and create intelligent software, one of my robots helped round the home and another robot played the drums.

What motivated and inspired you to pursue a career in the STEM industry?

I’ve always loved science since I was a kid, I liked robots and playing with the clever ways our brains worked like optical illusions. I was lucky enough to be able to save up for the first really cheap home computer, the ZX81, and got really hooked in the fun things you could do with computers like writing your own games. I’m lucky to have a job that lets me explore all the things that excited me when I was younger, and get paid for it.

What is the biggest misconception about your job?

I’m not out to rule the world, my robots are built to help humanity not take over, and computer programming isn’t boring or just for nerds.

What were you like as a child and what interests and hobbies did you have?

I loved to read books, (my mum said I read too many non-fiction books), but I made up for that later in life. I also loved tv sci-fi shows like Dr Who and Star Trek. I also love performing magic tricks. I hated sport, I’d rather exercise my brain, the way I figured it was if football was about getting a ball in the back of the net, why not buy two balls, put one in each net, and go off and do something more interesting instead.

What advice would you give your eight-year-old self about building a career in space?

Maths, computer coding and hard work. Maths and computing are really important things to both enjoy and be good at, space these days is as much about software as it is about engines.

Why do you think it’s important for humans travel and explore Mars?

Humans love adventure and Mars is the next big step. As a planet it has lots of things like Earth, and lots of things that are very different – understanding these will help us understand our home planet. There are lots of mysteries on Mars too, and humans love to solve mysteries. Perhaps one day humans will colonise Mars so getting there and seeing what’s what is a critical step in that journey.

Where do you think we’ll be in 50 years in terms of Mars exploration?

Lots more robots on Mars, finding out things for us, for a start. Perhaps even some small homestead on the red planet too, letting us see the planets wonders with our own eyes and discovering if it could really be a second home for humanity.

Peter appears in Activity 5.3 Robots in Space in Chapter Five of the Space Diary and again in Activity 4.1 Team Work in Chapter Four of the Mars Diary. Download the activity and teachings notes for Robots in Space here and Team Work here.

Principia Space Diary Robots in Space


You might also like...