Packing my bag, it’s 12pm. Just woke up from 6 hours of sleep after a 30 hour printing session, just in time to pick up the robot from the lab before the bus leaves at 2:30am.
The guys took over the cleanup part because I was completely out of energy and I had to get some sleep for the travel ahead of me. It made me worried. Not the fact that I was sleepy and had to travel for next 18 hours. No, it was the fact that the Albert (nickname of the robot) I was travelling with, was showing some worrying symptoms.
Things started to fail literally on the first step of the mission. A small detail that made things so much less convenient. The robot is composed of two parts, housed in two separate heavy duty cases, each weighing exactly the checked luggage weight limit, 23kg (50lbs). That makes a total of 46kg (100lbs) plus my backpack to howl through this commute. What failed on the first 50 meters was the wheels. They were not designed to handle such load and just broke apart. As I was walking through town, carrying the cases I remembered a piece of comic from the ocean of internet. It was about two Stone Age men talking, one saying to another: “These darn youngsters and their wheels. In my days we used to just carry stuff around.”
18 hours later I landed in Los Angeles. The rest of the team, squad leader Tambet and two ninjas, were arriving next morning so I had time to get set and plan, a lot. This was the biggest project so far for both me and Albert. We were about to cover around 1000 square meters of wall in a 5 day and 5 night printing rampage, going through about 600 cans of spray paint, doing all this on a small ledge over Hollywood Boulevard while constantly being livestreamed. All this had not really reached my emotional side of the brain, these were still just numbers.
The first day I ended up sleeping, seemed like a good idea. As the setup day was still two nights away, I had time. Second day the team arrived from San Francisco and we started setting up the logistics. So what do you really need for a project like this? This is what we ended up needing in addition to our standard stuff:
- A penthouse apartment in downtown Hollywood
- Extra hotel room near the print to sleep while on-call as the apartment was still a bit far away
- Cargo truck to get the load of paint and to store it near the location
- Superbike to get stuff fast through traffic in emergencies (didn’t really get one, but should have)
- 600 cans of spray paint
- 2 camping chairs
- Professional video production crew
Also, about a ton of fast food and coffee, lots of coffee.
The night before setup day, we met our videography producer, Carla Pimentel. The focus of this project was not on the end result, but on the process. Therefore we needed professionals on that side, luckily we found exactly the right woman for the job. Carla set up a team in a 24h notice and worked with us throughout this project as one of us.
Setup day went fairly straightforward and we started the first print almost exactly on time, 3am on 15th November. Me and Jason took the first shift, Tambet and Jorge went to sleep. The toughest part for these prints was to get the alignment around the Altima image just right. So there was a lot of hassle with that at first, but we got it better with every print. By the third day, we were in the routine, including Albert who was performing better than expected, no major faults. The prints were coming along, we were not getting enough sleep and took 12 hour shifts, but the adrenaline kept us going.
There were nontechnical delays as interviews took time and rope rappel to clean off some mess was delayed as it was turned into a major cinematic event. Also, the drone crew wanted some dry runs. But we had developed print runtimes on 7 hours, so it was not a problem. Things were looking good…
…Until a phone call woke me up, mid the 8th print. It was Tambet, saying that Albert is acting weird. He’s getting lots of follow errors on the servo control screen and lines are not looking straight. We had about one and a half print to go.
I rushed to the scene, follow errors usually appear like this when the main motors are fried. As the assemble was rushed a week ago, we did not have the thermistors in place, so we were printing all this time without any feedback on motor temperatures. I was hoping for something simpler, motor change is a hassle. We ended up going for the backup Bert. Backup performed well completing the 8th, even nailed the outline, which was a surprise as they should require a different setup. I was relieved to see that, but there was one more print to go before we could call this mission complete.
It was sunrise. I had had only 4 hours of sleep, I sent Tambet to bed so he could come and replace me if I needed it.
Our backup Albert was not cooperating on the first lines. There was an issue with interference from one of the motors, a specific issue that only allowed to print the last half of the print area. So I’d say we were very lucky to complete the 8th, very lucky. But the 9th was not coming. No matter what I tried, Al was not incrementing correctly, it was leaving gaps in print lines. In great exhaustion, I was forced to declare the completion of the mission at the 8th print.
The guys took over the cleanup part because I was completely out of energy. Woke me up for the group photo, which was nice.
After celebrating the completion and some recovery sleep, it was time to take time off and enjoy the sun before flying back to Estonia. I decided to head to Newport Beach, get a beach house and learn to surf, so we did. Ninjas flew back to San Fran, it was just me and Tambet left.
The weather was awesome, considering it was almost December.
A few nights later, there I was, sitting on my board, waiting for a wave just off the pier of Newport. It was late, so I was all alone, just me and the ocean and the pelicans. I was thinking back on the project, analyzing what I learned from this crazy project we just went through. As I was not paying much attention to the ocean, a big wave hit me suddenly. I tried to get on it but there was no way, I nosedived, the wave took me rumbling almost all the way to the beach like a giant washing machine.
After getting up I thought to myself:
“Life, it is just like the ocean.”