Can engineering be fun?: Nuvation and “Burning Man”

-August 16, 2013

Most people think that engineering is lots of math and science----well, it is. The part of engineering of which many people are not aware is the fun we have! My example is the visit I just had to the NASA Ames facility at Moffett Field in California (I will be posting details of this visit in several article and blogs to come over the next couple of weeks)

But for now, I would like to focus upon a very innovative engineering company called Nuvation Engineering with offices in California and Waterloo, Canada. I stopped by to see their new Sunnyvale, California headquarters (with ITAR certified-ready labs) and met with Michael Worry, CEO and Chief Engineer and Lindsay Farlow, Hardware Engineer & Content Marketing Manager. I love Nuvation, their culture, work ethic and their people. It’s good engineering techniques combined with enjoying electronic design. I will be elaborating on these designs in separate design articles on EDN---the electronics expertise that went into these is extensive and professionally done. That’s why companies come to Nuvation to handle their challenging design needs.

The Big Red Can

Big Red Can a safety and fun addition to their lab and Nuvation’s battery management system, an advanced, reliable design architecture that is well tested and proven and can be offered to their customers as is or with any modification that are needed for specific designs.


Take, for example, the E.REX EV and the battery management that went into it---fun to ride and a power management system that is highly efficient and safe.


Or how about the “Kegerator”? It’s not just about drinking beer (well, maybe a good part of it is) but some intelligent design that went into its operation.


And finally, the “DiscoFish”. When Lindsay told me about this, I was not really interested, it seemed frivolous (It’s a lot of fun but there’s more). When Michael Worry took me on the “nickel” tour recently, I had a pre-conceived notion that this was fun, but what did it have to do with engineering? Well, was I wrong!

The DiscoFish “Burning Man” vehicle was first built in 2002.  After an 8 year period, DiscoFish got a major renovation.

In 2011, Team Nuvation reimagined and rebuilt DiscoFish, even bigger and better than the original. The new art car took inspiration from the angler fish, and was dressed in its disco-finest.   Converted from a 21 person, double-decker bus, DiscoFish contains a complete pro-audio sound system, front stage, 30” illuminated disco ball, and fold down padded fins for guest seating.  For desert music and fun, a pair of K2 amps and three 18” subwoofers rock tunes to an extended illuminated dance floor.  People can enter inside the fish to grab a drink at the installed full bar, or climb up to the second level, hang with the DJ, chill and take it all in.  This awesome machine is covered with 500 scales that are individually LED lit and computer controlled to have patterns or messages ripple over the fish (A clever microprocessor and software design is at the heart of this light show).

DiscoFish is termed a “Mutant vehicle”

What’s a Mutant Vehicle?  From the Burning Man website:

“A Mutant Vehicle is a unique, motorized creation that shows little or no resemblance to their original form, or to any standard street vehicle. Mutant Vehicles are radically, stunningly, (usually) permanently, and safely modified from their base vehicle. Sometimes the whole vehicle is made from scratch.”

Mutant Vehicles are integral to the culture and community at Burning Man. They contribute to the surreal, visual quality that binds Black Rock City together.

Nuvation is bringing DiscoFish and the newly added "tail" of lights to Burning Man on August 26 this year.

Nuvation added tails to DiscoFish made from common materials like swimming pool "noodles" shown in blue, polycarbonate "fish scales" and ping-pong balls as diffusers. What is not common is the electronics to control the flashing lights and changing colors.

Noodle, ping-pong-ball and LED light assembly are all done on a volunteer basis by Nuvation employees and friends as was the entire DiscoFish design

I will be writing an extensive article on this design and its recent upgrades in my Analog design center on EDN because the intricate electronic design and safety efforts that were put into this “fun” vehicle are mind-boggling. It’s an autonomous vehicle!!!

All of the above-mentioned “fun” designs were done on a volunteer basis with thousands of man-hours because it looked like fun! Engineering fun. Can engineering be fun? Judge for yourself.

Please share some of your “engineering fun” with us.


More like this:

See executive editor, Suzanne Deffree’s blog “Serious Fun

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