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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Quality guides technological decisions

Michael Emery wanted to immerse people in his art to provide them an inspiring experience, so he built the MerKaBa, a "portal of sound and image to transport participants beyond consensus reality."
This art installation, which was built in the temporary metropolis of Black Rock City, NV, during the 2013 Burning Man event, is a nine-foot dome made of steel with fractal patterns plasma cut into each of the dome’s faces. Sound and lighting effects were designed to respond to visitors’ proximity and movement patterns, giving them the opportunity to participate in the creation of art.
Modern art, such as Emery’s MerKaBa, are works of technological complexity and artistic performance. His artwork integrates a rotating column of mirrors, six video projectors and 12 infrared motion sensors all controlled by three tiny Raspberry Pi computers. When the sensors were triggered, sound clips were selected and played by the software, which he wrote in Python, a high-level programming language. His goal for the technology was that it would provide a reliable and consistent user experience.
Unfortunately, when Emery deployed his creation in the harsh Black Rock desert, his code wasn’t performing the way he had expected. The sensors were being triggered in unexpected ways, and dedication to his standards of quality pushed him to quickly solve the problem.
Soon, the challenge became obvious: "I always try to anticipate potential problems and write my code to avoid them, but I didn’t expect a giant fire-breathing dragon," wrote the project’s software developer. "The dragon sculpture was a couple of hundred yards from the MerKaBa Project on the playa. Every time it belched flames, it set off the infrared sensor pointed in its direction. The infrared sensors can detect humans up to 30 feet away, but a fire-breathing dragon generates a lot more heat. Next year, I’ll plan for dragons!"


"Raspberry Pi in the MerKaBa Project at Burning Man," Raspberry Pi, www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?t=54812&p=416899 (case sensitive).

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