Engineering consulting firm Bushveld Labs use cutting-edge technology to make science fiction a reality. Their recent experiment, BodyTech, is an innovative platform combining dance and tech. By pairing a dancer/choreographer with widgets, the work explores how human bodies can activate technology and remain central to the process. This raises issues around connectivity and reveals the extraordinary next level possibilities presented by high-tech.
We chatted to the Bushveld team about how the fascinating experiments they’re working on will #OpenNextlevel and impact society, as well as to find out more about the wondrous things they’ll be showcasing on Thursday 10 December from 2–5pm at the Heineken® Next Level Bar. The gallery space they’ll be occupying is inspired by the sleek new 330ml Cool Can.
Bushveld Labs takes engineering to the next level by creating high-tech digital artworks and electronic production design. What inspired the formation of the company?
We found a niche in South Africa for rapid product development and low cost iterative prototyping. Before we formed Bushveld Labs, we’d spend our evenings moonlighting on crazy projects that most engineers would never tackle. After an enlightening experience at AfrikaBurn, we decided to break free and do this full time.
Technology can appear intimidating. What are some of the misconceptions people have around high-tech engineering, and how does what you do excite and inform people about the possibilities it presents?
We spend a lot of time trying to stimulate interest in electronics and programming by introducing people to open source hardware and software platforms. Open source has had an important impact on democratising access to tech over the past few years. For example, with the Arduino platform we were able to take a group of high school students who had no electronics experience and guided them to build an 8 piece percussive robotic orchestra in a matter of weeks.
You’re currently experimenting with integrated technology such as implantables. How has this been received in the South African market and what advantages does it present for the future of businesses and consumers?
We’re very interested in the blurry boundary between hardware, software and ‘wetware’ (the living computer). Our experiments have been aimed at the practical aspects of living with implantables, figuring out how to power implanted devices, and working out ways to integrate implantables with the internet. Some of the future applications that we see implantables being used in include blood glucose monitoring for diabetics, heart attack prediction and emergency alerting, activity monitoring, sensory augmentation, access control, crypto currencies and micropayment.
What are some of the basic principles when it comes to integrating the practicality of long lasting design with next level ideas?
With technology, especially cutting edge tech, supportability and hackability are key for keeping a design alive. The rate that technology is advancing is accelerating, and often a design needs to be supported well beyond the life of its components. Because of this, we prefer to use open source tech that’s community supported and easily understood which makes hacking and modification much easier.
High-tech is often thought to be preoccupied with the future. What lessons have you learnt from past projects that have improved your method of working and expanded your own perceptions?
Fail fast, succeed sooner! Failure is the most important concept in developing cutting edge tech. Open source hardware has dramatically lowered the cost of prototyping which allows us to iterate many times before settling on a final design. In the past, we would spend a huge amount of time planning and designing before touching any hardware. Now, using open source hardware, we are able to make many prototypes, test real life use, and find practical limitations early and cheaply. This has been an important shift in how we get things done.
How do you ensure you’re always pushing the limits of what people think possible?
If most engineers think it’s impossible, we’ll likely tackle the project. Anything worth having is not easy!
Of all the projects and experiments you’ve created so far, which has been most memorable and why?
To date, the most memorable and challenging project has been our collaboration with Danny Popper, Markus Wormstorm and Wayne Ellis on Satori, an AfrikaBurn installation.
You also do a lot of consulting. What are some of the global and local technological trends and how are they influencing people’s lives?
The Internet of Things (IoT) – most of the work we do today revolves around connecting ever day objects to the internet.
You’re showcasing some of your work at the Next Level Bar. What can we look forward to?
We’ll be showcasing various stages of development of some of our LED based projects. This will demonstrate some of the interactivity elements that we often use in our work. In particular, we’ll be displaying some of the tech used in out latest collaboration with the Wits Artchive and performance artist Athena Mazerakis in our BodyTech project.
Head on over to the Next Level Bar on Thursday, 10 December from 2pm to see what Bushveld Labs have on show.