Guest Post: Abhipsa Kar (MSc CE 21/22) reflects on our field trip to EMF Camp 2022
Every two years, a quiet meadow of Herefordshire lights up to host thousands of technophiles from the UK and abroad. This nonprofit event called EMF (Electromagnetic field) is run with the help of volunteers and sponsors. Our contingent from UCL, a mix of students and staff from the Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) and the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER) were afforded sponsorship to the EMF’s much anticipated 2022 edition.
We arrived on 2nd June, a day before the commencement, giving us ample time to setup camp and get our bearings. Even as we boarded the direct train from London, we were amazed to see many fellow campers already getting familiar with each other and revisiting memories from earlier editions. The camp provided a shuttle every half hour from the nearest station at Ledbury to its car park that seemed surprisingly full so early on. We were then greeted by the front desk volunteers who gave us our wrist bands and welcome booklets that detailed the facilities, map, and overall description of the event.
We spent the afternoon setting up our tents and assembling our team’s installations that comprised of a programmable LED hex dome powered through a Raspberry Pi and an acoustic sonification table with sliders to change parameters.
A tour of the camp revealed multiple camping areas with toilets, food shacks and showers along with a shop, creche and an arcade. The main events were held in three huge marquees and a series of workshop tents. I was amazed by the amount of care and sensitivity employed to ensure accessibility, accommodate alternative lifestyles, and facilitate childcare and wellbeing.
With the sunset looming, I headed to my first volunteer assignment at the kitchen, unsure of what to expect. The kitchen was calmer than expected with a couple of other volunteers chopping and washing up. The head caterer who preferred to be called “Fish” kindly announced that most of the work for dinner had already been done by eager volunteers and he would just need some help with chopping. Chatting about our common interests and diverse backgrounds, I had an amazing evening with fellow volunteers and a lovely dinner sponsored by the kitchen. After dinner, we explored the installations throughout the camp where people were rushing to make last minute adjustments. Ingenious installations like a Geiger counter playing xylophones and a tower with visualization and sonification of the networks in vicinity were enough to make me feel like a kid in a candy shop. My attention was diverted by custom made soapbox cars whizzing past every once a while. The running theme was clear; interactive and creative. I went to bed tired but happy.
The event kicked off officially the next day with announcements and instructions from the organizers amid thunderous applause from loyal EMF fans. The schedule had been finalized the day before and all of us had saved a list of the talks/workshops based on our interests and booked our volunteering assignments accordingly. However, my meticulous planning went haywire right from the start when the organizer announced the release of their ESP32 microcontroller based electronic EMF badge. I decided to skip the first talk to get my hand on the device.
This defined the tune for the entire trip, with me starting out to do something, landing on something too cool to miss and getting hooked to it. The highlight of the day was a workshop on programming EMF phone network via Node RED and Jabonz. After a productive shift manning the stage camera, a few of us decided to check out the “null sector”, a newly inaugurated area that hosted several curiosities like gesture mimicking robots, refurbished old computers, puzzles and an electron microscope. With twinkling lights and electronic symphonies, the camp was nothing short of a true festival.
On Saturday, even as the weather turned, the spirit of the campers continued unabated. I could see more installations (surprisingly weatherproof) and interesting talks continued. Doing my shift as a volunteer manager, I truly understood the complexity behind what looks like a well-oiled machine. The coordination between the volunteers, managers and the core organizers was extraordinary,,,, as was the spirit of the participants who kept coming back selflessly to help with the activities. There was an unmistakable feeling of solidarity through the shared workload.
Heading back from an excellent talk on hacking the radio spectrum with GNU radios, I encountered World O’ Techno which has become a mascot of the EMF and a companion since 2016,,,, its catchy tunes reverberating through the camp at all times. I also happened to catch a fire tornado setup by chance but what topped it for me was the Hebocon championship which pitted bizarre robots made of scrap against each other.
On Sunday, we were in a flurry of activity prepping for our workshop on bio-organisms found in local waterbodies. We collected water specimen from the nearest ponds and streams. It was an enlightening experience to work with the CBER conservation expert Isabel (Bishop) who explained how we could measure the health of our local water bodies using convenient methods and start a conversation on how to make them healthier.
The workshop was a roaring success and attended by participants of all ages eager to test for minerals within water and peering at tiny invertebrates through magnifying lenses. An immersed microphone recording revealed interesting sounds of the subaquatic world.
It was a glorious end to a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
“EMF was a really fun and memorable few days. I have left feeling incredibly inspired!” August Weinbren, Msc Connected Environments.
Thanks to Duncan (Wilson), Isabel (Bishop) and Dhruv (Kumar) for ideating the installations and amalgamating two diverse departments to create a unique experience. Thanks to EMF festival for the learning, connections, and hot showers in the middle of nowhere!
Looking forward to 2024! @emfcamp
Abhipsa Kar, June 2022