Burning Man, despite its reputation, is not just some low-fi hippie party in the middle of nowhere. The place is bursting with unique technology. Some of it blows out your eardrums, some helps you survive in a hostile environment, and some just inspires wonder, awe, and a little bit of fear.
At this week-long festival in the remote Nevada desert, where no humans live, the population rises close to 60,000 and then it vanishes into the ether. Along with the people come elaborate sculptures and insane vehicles—like, for example, this gigantic fire-breathing scorpion. When I encountered it, I had a choice: Either run away screaming, or climb up its butt and go for a ride. So I got on board and met its makers.
The concept and cash for the Scorpion came from longtime-burner Ken Murdoch, but it was designed and built by Kirk Jellum, an aerospace engineer. In 2010, Jellum quit the space business to build stuff for Burning Man full-time. You need an engineer to complete a project this complex—each leg moves individually, the arms move independently, the claws contract, and the tail can bend and flex. There are over 20 points of articulation, which can be operated from a series of levers on the deck.
To create the fire effects in the tail (each of which has an independent ignition), a computer and a series of Arduino controls run programs to fire off the various torches in rapid succession and in varying patterns. The Scorpion also has a pretty decent stereo system, and it looks amazing at night.
The vehicle is built on top of a 28 foot long 1993 International boom truck. It's contains over 3,000 pounds of steel. It took seven months, 500 design hours and 3,500 fabrication hours to complete. Now, it roams the desert, looking for revelers to amaze and other art cars to battle. Imagine this thing coming at you on a quiet suburban street. Madness.