New Faculty Spotlight: Bowen Weng

February 22, 2024

Meet Bowen Weng, our new Assistant Professor of Computer Science. He started in January of 2024. He received his Master's in System and Control Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 2016 and a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from The Ohio State University in 2023. Since 2016, before joining Iowa State University, he worked as a Research Engineer, Technical Specialist, and Research Scientist at Transportation Research Center Inc. on assignment to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), U.S. Department of Transportation.

Dr. Weng is the organizer of the IEEE-ITSC 2022, IEEE-IV 2023, and IEEE-ITSC 2023 workshops on "Safety Testing and Validation of Connected and Automated Vehicles" and the Associate Editor of IEEE-IV 2023. He also chairs the ASTM Committee F45.06 Legged Robot Systems for standard development.

His research interests are robotics, safe autonomy, control, and reinforcement learning.

"[Iowa State University's] appreciation and support did strike me. I'm very excited about working with these passionate people."

Please tell us about your research. What are some key questions you are trying to answer?

I'm a roboticist focusing on robot safety. My research interests are at the vibrant crossroads of control theory and robotics, with applications to intelligent vehicles, legged robots, multi-agent systems, extensions to other human-robot-interaction applications, and general artificial intelligence.

Some key questions are: how to build a safe robot/AI and how do we know we did it?

What attracted you to working with robotics, and more specifically, robot safety?

The attraction to robotics is quite straightforward with Knight Rider, Terminator, GUNDAM, ET, Transformer, etc. The attraction to the specific topic of robot safety is a little complicated including my years of working experience with the U.S. Department of Transportation on vehicle testing as a contractor researcher and Ralph Nader's bestselling book "Unsafe at Any Speed" in 1965.

What do you see as some of the possible applications of your research?

Some possible applications of my research are automated vehicles, legged robots and humanoids, and other AI-equipped robotic systems.

What do you think the impact of your research is on the average person?

It saves human lives. It also gives the public a clear, insightful perspective on the capabilities and, crucially, the limitations of various robots, autonomous systems, and AI.

What drew you to the Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University? What are you most excited about?

As a roboticist passionate about cross-disciplinary research, I am thrilled at the prospect of collaborating with the department's diverse and talented faculty and students. They were very supportive during my on-campus interview with the Department of Computer Science. My colloquium had a fully packed house. Iowa State Daily had a story on my colloquium the following day. The student editor mistook me as an "Ohio State Professor," but their appreciation and support did strike me. I'm very excited about working with these passionate people.

What is one thing you hope that students who work or study with you will walk away with?

Hopefully a goal for the future. At the least, a great piece of memory (with the robots).

Finally, what is one thing you enjoy doing outside of computer science?