A Year for Visual Impact - BM 2019 in Review

It wasn’t an easy year. We knew all the inaccuracies and shortcomings from BM2018 that had to be fixed, what the department of mutant vehicles wanted from us the following year, and what we personally wanted to accomplish by playa time. In short, our to-do list included changing the robot head module so it weighed less, adding in suspension, restructuring the wheels on the robot to better distribute the heavy load (it’s made entirely of steel), refabricating the actual gecko head to look more gecko-like, adding the dance floor module (full fabrication from scratch which included motor controls, batteries, etc. so it can be a stand alone unit as well), getting the sign created and mounted, fabricating a gecko foot, making sure all the LEDs work, and programming the controls so it can drive. But, that all happened. Every. Last. Bit.


The team was amazing, so many truly talented volunteers that gave it their all. Some came in with ample skills in engineering or fabrication, others learned on the fly. It was pure magic. As Playa Time at Black Rock City came closer, it was another mad dash filled with late nights, long days, and round the clock help to get the Gecko on its way.

Each unit and support unit gets towed to Black Rock City (BRC). For us this year, there were 4 units going up — the Robot head, the Dance floor, the DiscoFish tail, and the Whale which is where we house all the backups we bring. Each unit has an assigned driver that tows by hitch, and teams already in BRC as well as back in Sunnyvale monitoring their travels.


People talk about the good, but every group has issues. Running a large art car is not easy task. Just getting them to BRC is a feat and we hit a few bumps along the way. For us this year, there was a snafu with the sign when the dance floor module was being transported. Mark was the driver and his calm nature as well as attention to detail helped get everything adjusted, fixed, disassembled, and back on track. The robot head’s driver had a tire issue on the unit. It made it to BRC but the tire was trashed.

The sign took a good part of the evening to fix, some quick thinking used RVs to help mount it. The spare parts in the whale allowed us to rebuild the broken railing. For the Robot tire issue, the team pivoted to use the street tires. There was a possibility of overheating because of the pivot as the drive systems were calibrated for the other industrial wheels. After testing the Robot, there were some issues, it did overheat. Luckily, we have some amazing engineers that went heads down for nearly three days to identify, re-engineer, and create solutions for those problems.


By midweek the Gecko was ready for the DMV with a day license granted on Wednesday. Due to a technical hiccup, the night license was postponed until Thursday. Then, after the night license was granted the overheating issue persisted and caused another night in for the gecko.


But, Friday was a full day and night success for the TechnoGecko. The engineering team worked out most of the kinks earlier in the week and the gecko cruised the playa doing and ARTery tour at 9:45am, bait shift at 6pm, and evening plus late night slithering through the playa until calling it at 4am. The Gecko had the privilege of seeing the Man, the Temple of Direction, the Aweful Gas Station burn, the Folly burn, Head Space, Wing Portal, and many more of the amazing art the graced the playa this year. The docent that joined us Friday morning for the ARTery tour gave great insight into the stories and meaning behind the deep playa pieces that further enriched the experience.

Watching people walk and bike by, jump aboard, dance with us, and call to us makes all the labor (of love) worthwhile. We basked in the warm fuzzies the Gecko provided to the burners and enjoyed hosting as many as we could each day and night we were out.

Our Canadian crew spearheaded creating a robotic bartender named Mr. Tipsy. Those that came aboard (that were of age) were excited to select one of over 30 drinks he can create, mixed perfectly, and without complaint.

Our duo dance poles caused people to stop in their tracks, drop bikes, jump aboard and show us their moves! No moves? Not to worry! The burner community provided attempts by first timers that were fabulous! We even had some pros come and teach others that wanted to learn. The joy that came from the dance floor that we added this year was immense. We loved the special experiences it provided.


Saturday was also a success with nearly no technical interruption. Being staked out for the Man Burn and sharing that moment with the team aboard the Gecko was pure magic. It was a great reprieve for the crew to have a working vehicle to party in after all the labor that was put in to make it happen. They were able to go out, enjoy, then come back to camp and sleep (opposed to staying up late trouble shooting).

(Note: The vehicle is built entirely from scratch from the ground up, it’s fully electric, and uses a joystick to drive. The tech is something unique and with that comes a unique experience but often some challenging (aka fun) problems to solve.)

Sunday we packed up and proceeded to prepare to slither ourselves homes one person, one vehicle, one module, one piece at a time. We learned a lot, we grew, we experienced, we had another successful year with a lifetime of memories for remembering self to bask in.