Robotics Engineer Featured in Google Expedition

March 31, 2017

Victoria Nneji helps inspire the next generation of engineers

By Ken Kingery

Victoria Nneji

Victoria Nneji

Victoria Chibuogu Nneji has always tried to give back to the communities that have helped her succeed. That’s why when Refraction Media and Google called to profile her in their new “Careers with Code” publication aimed at growing the STEM pipeline, she accepted the opportunity.

“It’s what I naturally do anyway, so I was glad to have the chance to do it on global scale,” said Nneji, PhD student in mechanical engineering in Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Laboratory.

In the laboratory, Nneji works with the Federal Railroad Administration to model how the growing level of automation being built into freight trains will impact the human performance of those running the system. A second project with NASA has her working to get ahead of the curve with what policies and regulations will be needed if Jetsons-like personal passenger drones ever take off. Her goal in her research is to adequately consider human factors in the design of advanced technologies that drive the complex systems we rely on for access and mobility to products and services.

Outside of the laboratory, Nneji extends this vision for greater access and mobility in the community because personally knows the importance.

Screen capture from Victoria Nneji's Google ExpeditionWhile growing up in Durham, Nneji did not have a computer of her own. She would catch the city bus to spend evenings and weekends at Shodor, a computational science firm downtown, learning how to develop software and design mathematical models that she could not show off at home.  Until, that is, she connected with a company in the Research Triangle Park to learn how to build a computer for herself.

“As a middle school student, that experience was a great spark to get me excited about the possibilities with STEM,” said Nneji, who attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics before enrolling in Columbia University. “I wanted to recreate that experience for more girls while in New York City by getting my college classmates to join me in sourcing old computers, developing curriculum, recruiting families and leading hands-on hardware sessions.”

Back in Durham now, she serves the community by working with the Mayor on his Poverty Reduction Initiative to increase educational access and also transportation mobility as a City Commissioner.

“If I didn’t do this work, I wouldn’t feel like I was being my complete self,” said Nneji. “If others didn’t take time to help me, I may not have the opportunities I have today.”

Yet another opportunity sprung up this past spring, when Careers with Code and Google followed up to produce an “Expedition” for several of the scientists they had previously featured.

Google Expeditions are teaching tools used in classrooms the world over. With a tablet, cell phone and virtual reality glasses in hand, students can go on tours anywhere in the world that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.

For Nneji’s Google Expedition, a photographer brought a device consisting of 16 Go-Pros attached together in a circle. Along with software capable of stitching the photos together, the effect is a 360-degree view of several Duke research spaces, complete with annotations on what is going on in each scene. The final product shows what a day in the life of a roboticist is like, showing others that such a career is within their realm of possibility.

The tour of Duke and Durham launched just in time for International Women’s Day earlier this year. You can check it out yourself—all you need is the app downloaded on one of your devices.