Photoshop!

Start with a wandering cuddle puddle. A small, contained, cushioned space with room for six people (eight if they want to get really snuggly) that drives around Burning Man. Now grow six trees up from that base. Six trunks rise up, branching and curling and reaching for the sky and tangling into each other to form a canopy over the top. Below, the roots of the trees tangle into each other as they wrap around the body of the art car. Now imagine those trees made of translucent color. Neon orange, green, blue, and purple. Light glints off of shiny facets beneath the surface. At night the trees glow with an even more intense color. Each of the trees slowly fades brighter and dimmer in a soothing, underwater pulse.

Sketch

And now imagine the coolest part. As this contraption drives around, six people riding in it hook little clips onto their earlobes or fingertips, and the pulsing of each tree starts to match the pulse of a rider’s heartbeat.

Branch Design

The branches start with a core of spring steel wire. It is able to sway and bounce with the movements of the art car and the wind, but always comes back to its shape. Around that, we put a layer of LED ribbon lights and bubble wrap. The bubble wrap gives us volume and diffuses the light of the LEDs. Around the bubble wrap we put a thin layer of Aluminet reflective shade cloth and translucent, iridescent punchinella. We wrap the whole thing in a layer of tinted vinyl and use a heat gun to weld the vinyl to itself, making smooth skin.

Branch Test
Branch Test
Branch Test

We’re still figuring out what colors will look best, but we’ll probably use some combination of orange, blue, green, and purple. We have some orange (amber) LED lights that just look wonderfully unique and beautiful, and they look even better under the orange vinyl. Blue and green LEDs are super common and do look very good (if not quite as unique). Purple is proving more challenging – we’re looking into using an RGB strip with just the R and B lights on, or maybe trying pink lights under the purple vinyl. We’ll see.

Branch Test
Branch Test
Vinyl Color Options

The mockup here uses white lights under green vinyl. You can see how much color the vinyl gives us all on its own. In the closeup you can see the texture that the Aluminet gives us. There’s no punchinella yet.

Heart Rate Sensor

If the video isn't working try it at Vimeo.

The sensor itself comes from pulsesensor.com. They clip onto an ear lobe or a fingertip or… really anywhere you can keep them fastened against skin. The video here is from the day the test sensor showed up in the mail. It took almost no time to get the software set up with my arduino. And it worked. I knew it would be amazing but I was still surprised by how intimate it is to watch the heart rate of another human being. It’s really special.

Pulse Sensor

We’ll hook up a sensor to each tree, so when you clip the sensor on your heart rate will take over the light pulsing of that tree. Imagine going out to deep playa late at night with five other people, cuddling up under a blanket, and just lying there watching each other’s hearts beat.

Golf Cart Base
Freshly Upholstered Cart

We first got this golf cart in 2009, and it became the Jelly Jalopy. In 2012 we stripped the golf cart down as far as we could and then built back up this design. It’s built to hold 6-8 people all close together and cuddly-like. You crawl in and out from the front, not entirely unlike climbing into bed.

The bright pink is from when it was freshly upholstered as the tongue of Connie the Baby Blue Whale. The more faded pink is after 3 years on the playa. (The holes are from when we parked downwind of the temple burn and she caught fire a little bit. Oops!) The numbers on the faded photo are just reference for reupholstering – we’re going to use microfiber this time in hopes it’ll be a little more durable. The stripped down profile photo is with all removable panels removed for a trip to the mechanic.

Golf Cart after 3 years
Golf Cart

The news from the mechanic wasn’t great. After six years of abuse from us the engine just didn’t have anything left. Replacing with a new engine is too expensive, and there apparently aren’t any worthwhile used engines out there. We decided to go creative with it and turn the thing into a hybrid. An electric motor will drive the wheels, a small battery bank will power the motor, and a gas generator will keep the system charged. This system means we’ll have more juice to run lights (even when we’re not actually driving), and it’ll be easier to replace any part of the system that wears out. Hopefully we can keep this cart driving forever.

Team

We have a small camp, called Catch and Release. We’re 12-15 people each year, and we live all over the place but we’re currently based out of Portland, Oregon. We have a 1600 square foot warehouse for our burning man projects. It rocks. Only three of us actually live in Portland, but at least half a dozen current and former campmates are planning to come out this summer to help with the build. Another campmate in Nova Scotia and two of his high school friends have volunteered to design and build all of the electronics.

Warehouse

One of our biggest goals for this is to build an art car that takes absolutely no on-playa work. We want to be able to arrive on-playa, drive it off of whatever transported it, and drive straight over to the DMV to get licensed. No setup, no teardown. Obviously there might be problems and maintenance, but we don’t want that to be plan A. We want this thing to spend the entire week driving.

Catch and Release Campmates 2014

We’ll have several drivers, and their instructions will be to keep the thing moving. I don’t want to build an art car just to have it sit next to camp, or to ferry campmates to events. I want the thing rolling around the playa with space available for new friends. To me, that’s the whole point – putting strangers together in as intimate an environment as a tiny art car can create.

Connie the Baby Blue Whale
Connie

Connie was our baby for three years – 2012 to 2014. She was amazing. The best part was how adorable she was. That might be hard to repeat with a grove of trees, but I’m hoping we can at least achieve a feeling of whimsy in the shape of the trees.

Connie’s lights worked really well – we used 16 five-meter strips of LED ribbon. She was just plain bright. Because she was all blue all the time we could find her on the playa from huge distances. On the new art car we’re planning to use about the same quantity of lights. We’ll lose a little intensity by diffusing the lights through the body of the branches, but I think we’ll make that up because the overall size of the art car is smaller.

Connie
Connie

Connie was wonderful, we’ll miss her. Hopefully her new little sister will do her proud.