John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
This hacked "Waterfall Swing" puts kids through dozens of rainstorms each minute.
Who knew there were such die-hard swinging aficionados out there? This interactive-playground breakthrough is drawing fewer YouTube comments on its crazy design than, allegedly, the utterly pathetic technique of the swingers. They are "terrible swingers," who look "like how a robot would try to swing," and "the one in the red shirt clearly had no childhood."
C'mon, fellas, give them a break! It must be hard to focus on swinging, after all, when you're dodging dozens of sudden rainstorms each minute. That's the tempestuous environment that the "Waterfall Swing" throws users into when they plop their butts into its saddles. The leaky recreational equipment was created by gadgetheads at Dash 7 Design, the same people who built a "floating city" powered by motorcycles on the Ganges. They explain:
Towering steel swing set holding arrays of mechanical solenoids that create a water plane falling in the path of its riders. Formed from a tangent of ideas raised from the study of interactions of water as space, the swing is the first in a series that play with interaction in rides and installations. Riders pass through openings in a waterfall created by precisely monitoring their path via axel-housed encoders, creating the thrill of narrowly escaping obstacles.
Before anybody gets angry with how much water this contraption is pouring into the ground: Don't worry. It's being sucked up from a collection pond on the ground, and reused to create the "rain." Add strobe lights and speakers that clap uproariously with fake thunder, and you have the perfect plaything to overjoy or terrify your children, depending on their opinions of electric storms.
This footage of the swing in operation is from last September's World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science. If you'd like to build a backyard version, there is a rough guideline for the 2010 prototype, titled "Deus Ex Machine," posted here. (Tip: Stock up now on "independently actuated solenoids" – you're going to need 273 of them.)