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Senior Jeffrey Wubbenhorst records college life with self-engineered Lego device perched on backpack

Imagine having a camera on your shoulder, recording all of your moments at Duke. Senior Jeffrey Wubbenhorst knows.

Within his first two weeks on campus, Wubbenhorst had the inspiration to embark on an engineering project that is still following him today.

“It was first weekend back home, and I said I should have something in this spatial region next to my face,” Wubbenhorst said. “I couldn’t think of anything better to do than put a camera there.”

Attached to Wubbenhorst’s backpack is a device—which his friend named Felix—that looks similar to a robotic Lego arm with a small GoPro camera affixed to it. 

The camera faces forward, capturing his everyday life, whether it’s exciting or mundane. He said he recorded a lot during his freshman year, but he realized that he “can only record going to Perkins and studying so many times.”

Now, he chooses to record just a snippet of each day that he finds interesting or that someone would want to watch. Deciding what to record is arbitrary, he said, but he has noticed a recurring motif of free food. It’s fun to record life, just like people enjoy recording Snapchat stories, he noted.

“I also have some kind of understanding that life at Duke is not normal, and that not-normalcy should probably be preserved for posterity,” Wubbenhorst said.

Throughout his recording, he said only five or six people have asked for their consent to record. As long as people know he is recording, which is obvious from the device on his backpack, then he said they are generally friendly about being recorded. He thinks this nonchalant response to plain surveillance is a product of the digital age. 

Building the device itself was not an easy process. Backpacks are not designed to have things stuck on the strap, so he explained that the biggest issue was figuring out how to keep the camera from shaking. After realizing PVC pipes moved too much, he turned to Legos. 

He said his first prototype was terrible, but the next was less terrible. It was a process of trying things out, stuff breaking and taking footage, he said. Whichever configuration gave the least shaky video was the final model he decided to use. 

Wubbenhorst said he has been able to see himself grow up and change through the videos and through his interactions with the camera.

“It’s been a fascinating project not only in an engineering sense, but also in a personal sense,” he said. “I can see a lot of myself through the footage that I take.”

Wubbenhorst said his faith is what gave him the guts to take on this project. He is now glad he continued it because it has helped him be recognized across campus and allowed him to meet more people, since the camera is a good conversation starter. 

The device has also made him more conscious of who he is in a social context.

“It’s like having a constant reminder to be yourself, and that goes a really long way,” Wubbenhorst said. “I feel like the social scene at Duke is such that you can fit in if you want to, even at the cost of your own individuality. I feel like this thing has been very much a reminder to not do that.”

His plans with the videos right now are open-ended. He has a lot of footage stored on his hard drive, and he only deletes the clips that he would not want to post online—which are mostly from freshman year. He has already posted some videos to YouTube, and when he has the time and motivation, he said he will likely post them all.

Wubbenhorst is not sure if he will keep carrying the device around with him after he graduates, and it will likely depend on if his employer will allow it. However, he will continue to bring the camera for personal enjoyment.

“It’s definitely been a thought-provoking experiment,” Wubbenhorst said. “It’s been good, and it’s definitely affected my time here, in good ways.”

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