I have developed a prototype of a bicycle-powered mobile broadcasting machine I’ve been calling the Video Bomber. The idea behind it is to take the interactive video technologies I’ve been playing with out of the studio and into the streets.
There are some fantastic things happening in the open-source programming community, especially the code being developed for the Kinect, an XBox 360 peripheral. These folks have figured out how to get the depth data gathered by the Kinect into your laptop and written libraries for various programs. Motion tracking, 3D scanning, interactive environments, digital puppetry – it opens up some tantalizing possibilities.
Using the Kinect as a sensing tool in conjunction with Processing or QuartzComposer I have developed a few custom applications to use in interactive projection designs (and been figuring out the more skillful experiments of others). But these apps aren’t specific to any show, when I run them they’re closer to a video game or an installation. Not really ‘theatre’ or narrative-specific. So my goal for this project is to bring these toys onto the streets where anyone can interact with the video, to have more people play with them. Give the audience an experience instead of a sit-down, turn-off-your-cell-phone ‘show’.
The Video Bomber is the result of a lot of tinkering with digital video manipulation tools, electronics, and bike parts in my garage. I initially built it as an experiment, just to see if it would work. It is a projector and camera rig hooked up to a laptop and three marine batteries, all mounted onto a sturdy bike trailer. It is designed to be highly mobile, to sneak into spaces regular setups cannot reach. Powered by batteries, it can be set up anywhere in the city, not just in places with an accessible power connection. The idea is to be able to set up interactive video in weird nooks and crannies that otherwise could not support an electric spectacle.
Using a grant I won from the Awesome Calgary Foundation in January 2012, I built, tested, re-built, and deployed the prototype version. The rig isn’t pretty, but it works! Nothing exploded and nobody was electrocuted. We have tested it in the wild, using open-source ‘laser graffiti’ software to write our names on buildings with a laser during a tour on the bike paths and neighborhoods of Calgary.
We also experimented with streaming contextual video in situ. The photos and video above are from when we set up the Video Bomber at the old Calgary General Hospital site. The park that is there now has a 50′ wall made up of bricks from the demolished building. We used that as a projection surface for a YouTube stream of the footage of the Province of Alberta blowing up the hospital in 1998. This was something I watched from the hill as a child, so it was quite eerie to see the hospital blow up again, up close, on the site where it happened and on the materials of the building itself. It was like seeing a ghost.
Next steps are to tighten up the design to make it easier to deploy, and to continue developing applications using languages such as Processing, Cinder, and openFrameworks.