If the latter half of my year has been a bit quiet, it is mostly because I’ve been dedicating a fair bit of time to things that on the surface don’t exactly seem very ‘science’. Ok, so my garden is no longer covered in the kind of tarmac you need to mow, but that’s not all.
During January, I’ll be (partly) following the footsteps of the Vietnam special from 2008’s Top Gear (other motoring shows are available). There are a few differences; we’re not following the same route, will be taking a lot more than 8 days to do it and so we won’t need to cheat either. It has been quite the challenge to prepare for this adventure. I have a 35 litre backpack which I’m trying to keep to ten kilos. Ordinarily, this isn’t a challenge but I’m taking tools and a fair amount of camera equipment. Rather than just have a road trip movie, I want to bring in a little science theme as we travel from South to North of the country.
Aside from carrying all this stuff, I’ve been experimenting with mounts that reduce the vibration of cameras on motorbikes. I’ve got to be able to tune them as we go along, according to the motorbikes we buy out there. There’s a lot of engineering going into making these mounts work. The vibration from a bumpy road on a little motorcycle is very different to the kind of high frequency vibration you get from a drone. If my Meccano and cable ties work, it should be ok.
As a result I have been playing with the idea of where cameras can go, yet we don’t exploit them enough. More specifically, how action cameras can allow the audience to get to an inaccessible place such as onto the stage, backstage, inside a chemical reaction vessel, inside bubbles, balloons, explosions. Now, via wireless streaming and projection, we place tiny cameras in places that give us unusual experiences. For instance, using Periscope, an audience can hold get as close to the action in a performance with their mobile phone.
Simply put, technology has gifted science performers something that just a couple of years ago was either not possible, or was risky due to the cost of the equipment. For example, powerful Raspberry Pi computing power is cheap, replaceable within a very short amount of time and tiny. It’s no wonder we want to attach them to drones, fire them into space, and drop them in the oceans.
This is just the edge of a hotter topic. While replacing something during the course of a series of shows can be cheap, the same cannot always be said of the cost of development of a show. In those early experimental stages, pushing equipment to the limit of destruction sometimes means going beyond it.
When people question the high cost of a performance, it is often the reminder of the cost of equipment and time that goes into the development of a show that brings people to heel. Getting things right does not happen by accident; it is costly in every aspect. That’s why I’ve been kept busy. ^_^