Wednesday, June 24, 2015

2015-06-23: Autonomy Incubator Profiles: Nicole Ogden

Nicole and her fellow intern, Curt Feinberg, love the AI's homey touches.

Nicole Ogden is a Master's student in Electrical Engineering at North Carolina A&T who works with the Autonomy Incubator (AI) in conjunction with her internship at the NIA. But, she's also the AI's version of the Most Interesting Man In The World: she spent nine months working working at a web development company in Belfast, Ireland and traveling at least once per month. So far, she's traveled—solo!—to Berlin, Dublin, Pompeii, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh, and those are just the cities she had time to mention in our interview.

"I travel because of the history," she said. "These are the type of history lessons I can't get in school. Also, after coding all day every day at my job, my brain needed a break!"

When she's not working on her project—engineering a damage-proof system of communication for UAVs to make them more durable in the field—she loves to tell stories about her travels. She's lived through enough bizarre encounters and touching moments to keep anyone entertained for hours; she even plans on writing a book someday about her life abroad. Included, she said, will be some of the 3,000 pictures she took during her adventures.

We spoke to Nicole for an afternoon about her utterly fascinating life. Here, for your benefit, are the highlights and takeaways of what she taught us:
  • The Guinness brewery in Dublin has a 9,000 year lease on its building.
  • When visiting a non-English speaking country, it's courteous to learn at least a few phrases in the language first. It's easy; she said, "I just used a few free apps on my iPod."
  • Nutella. Nutella, Nutella, Nutella. NUTELLA.
  • The best way to make friends when alone and abroad is to sign up for walking tours. "All those people are by themselves too," Nicole said.
  • You can tell who the Americans are at the airport because they're the only ones who take their shoes off at airport security.
  • Scotland has the best food in the British Isles, but Ireland has better weather.
  • There's a piece of graffiti on the Peace Wall in Belfast of a soldier pointing a gun at the viewer, and it's called "The Belfast Mona Lisa."  Whatever angle you look at it from, the gun seems to be pointing at you.
  • In Europe, key indicators of Clueless American Tourist Syndrome include white socks, fanny packs, maps, bright clothes, and smiling too much. Tone your appearance down, and you're less likely to be hassled.
Although she has already roamed far afield of her home in Buffalo, New York, Nicole says she plans to visit more countries after she graduates.

"I definitely want to go back," she said. "I want to see Northern Africa too."

Given her globetrotting spirit, the Autonomy Incubator is thrilled that she's landed in Hampton this summer because of what her research means for the future of autonomy. Currently, if a UAV's communication component is damaged while out on a mission, there's only one outcome available— freeze and crash. Clearly, such a glaring vulnerability can make even the smartest of robots impossible to use in adverse conditions. For Nicole, the challenge is clear: augment the communication system to be resistant to failure. She's tackling the problem from two different angles—physical and systematic— and intends to incorporate both into her thesis.

Whether it's reliable unmanned systems or travel advice you want, Nicole Ogden is the person to find.

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