2018 was the year of PLAM, the bare bones basics to get a mutant vehicle on playa — Power, Lights, Audio, Movement. Without completing these features, we would never be able to get a mutant vehicle pass. This was looming in our minds from the start, a clear goal ingrained in all the volunteers.
It took months after the 2017 burn to develop the new art car visions theme, list of capabilities, fashion a look and feel, and identify all the bells and whistles. Months after that were spent engineering loads, developing fabrication designs, and waiting for parts to arrive. It was in the last stretch before burning man 2018, May through August, that everything was coming together and work actually started. The team needed to sprint as fast as they could to get as much done as possible before the burn, recruiting more able bodied people to help make up for the lack of time.
The big question was - would it be enough. We didn’t know.
The team initially wanted to complete two modules, but in the ended focused on just one - the front half of the body. The DiscoFish caboose was fully functional and would be added to the TechnoGecko first module to make it more impactful on playa. Getting the first module done was tough. We had to weld A LOT to make the frame of the body. No one on the team was experienced in welding. The amount of man hours to make it was severely underestimated but people stepped up, took ownership, and became experts. We recruited more experienced welders to help, non burners that wanted to contribute to a cool side project. We were thankful.
For power, we needed to get the batteries assembled, connected, and built in an electronic system that would allow the vehicle to be directed from a remote control (no autonomy yet). Luckily, our group has a lot of battery experts so of all the things we had to get done, power was one of the easiest.
The team played around with light ideas for the outside of the gecko, testing and retesting to see what might be something that would look cool, work, and hold up to the playa elements. Chris built a custom vacuum forming machine, it worked but it was slow. The burning man gods sent us three professional vacuum forming machines that a business was tossing and therefore willingly donated to us. It sped up the process but we still spent nearly every build day cranking out molds for the gecko scales that would be placed on the outside of the first module. Each mold then had to be spray painted for daytime visual impact, have LED lights placed inside for nighttime impact, a metal blacking added, the entire piece fastened together, then sanding to prevent MOOP. After completion, they had to be assembled onto the gecko body. It was tedious and nearly half the volunteers helped in those steps alone.
We ordered an upgraded sound system from a group in California. It was going to be glorious. But, they couldn’t delivery in time after all. With a few weeks before the burn we pivoted our audio ideas entirely and went with what we used in years past. The DiscoFish audio gear was gutted and re-purposed on the Gecko. Everything worked.
Although everything was tested before the playa — the Gecko could be attached to the DiscoFish Caboose and maneuver in the parking lot — that is never enough. The big moment would come when we got to Black Rock City. The beast was HEAVY, we knew that. The Playa was not flat, we also knew that. The tires weren’t built for traction - we know that. Unfortunately, the gears and chains pulled apart and broke upon first test on playa. It was a hard moment for everyone to take in. Luckily the team was there early and it left a little more wiggle room for options. Calls were made and new pieces were overnighted to the team that was arriving mid week. The crew that was there early started stripping off the old pieces and when the new ones arrived, replacing them. There was still no guarantee. But, luckily, after the swap (which took nearly two full days) the Gecko was mobile. With only a few hours left before the DMV shut down for the day, we went and after a long inspection were granted a day and night pass for the remained of the burn.
The debut of the TechnoGecko was something the team was so excited about. It took a village. We embarked on a crazy quest and made it to the playa, something a lot that plan on never do for a host of reasons. We learned a lot. We gained a lot of useful information and insight on what to do for the five remaining vehicles, and then we partied.
Our bait shifts were fun, the night parties were fun, we brought joy to the Burners and that in turn brought us joy.
We cannot wait for what next year brings!