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Data dashboard charts Ranulph Fiennes’ desert challenge

April 6, 2015
Mark Lochrie

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Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Rory Coleman at the day one finish line ©LizScarff

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Rory Coleman at the day one finish line ©Liz Scarff

With temperatures reaching over 50 degrees celsius, a total distance of 156 miles, Saharan sand dunes, limited water and nutrition and 1,360 competitors, the Marathon des Sables (MdS) is one of the toughest events on the globe.

UK explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is competing in this year’s MdS on behalf of charity Marie Curie, and the Media Innovation Studio is collaborating with production company Fieldcraft Studios and Kingston University to chart his attempt at the Earth’s most challenging races.

MDS: The long slow climb on day one ©Liz Scarff

Using a range of sensors and data sets spanning geo-location, heart rate, fluid consumption and calories burnt, media from Fieldcraft Studios on site in Morocco and analysis from Kingston University sports scientists, the Media Innovation Studio team has created a daily visualisation mapping Sir Ranulph’s Marathon des Sables. The work has completed under the ‘Datamakers’ project, which seeks to harness innovative uses for data of all kinds and shapes. 

Between April 5th and 11th, the Studio will be publishing ‘Ran’s data dashboard’ and on the Marie Curie website.

“Finding new ways to tell stories is something we’re passionate about here at the Media Innovation Studio and our sensor journalism approach is a good example of that,” said Professor Paul Egglestone, director of the Media Innovation Studio at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

“Designing and building Ran’s digital dashboard allows us to pull in performance data from wearable technology sensors, combine it with great images from the Fieldcraft team over in Africa and convey the physiological effects of one of the worlds most gruelling challenges on the human body – in this case that of Sir Ranulph Fiennes,” said Dr Mark Lochrie, creative technologist at the Media Innovation Studio, UCLan.  

A project like this has many technological challenges. Doing anything data or sensor related in an environment where its anywhere around and above 40°C heat, sand storms creating a blanket of sand covering everything and everyone, not to mention getting sand in the equipment, is not a good combination,” Mark continued.

“For example Skin Temp and Altitude were two important data sets, we at the Media Innovation Studio were banking on using in creating the marathon experience for those back home in our comfy living rooms. However during Day 1 it became apparent that neither these two data sets were available. In the end Altitude was gained from a custom built data set and Skin Temp would have to be removed from the data parsing. These alongside many more, are factors that need to be considered when designing these types of systems.”

During the course of the next 4 days, the team will continue to work on collecting, parsing and displaying Ran’s data, recreating the experience online. After this time, there are other visualisations and interactive experiences planned to really recreate the blistering temperatures and extreme conditions through other installations, possibly a physical one!”

John Mills, researcher at the Media Innovation Studio, said: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with Fieldcraft Studios, Kingston University, Marie Curie and Sir Ranulph’s team on this data project. It’s been a rapid prototyping process on the creation of the dashboard, but we’re hoping that the data set will have a range of uses beyond the end of the project, particularly in allowing people to experience what it might be like to race in Sahara.”

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Rory Coleman during the Marathon des Sables ©LizScarff

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Rory Coleman during the Marathon des Sables ©Liz Scarff

Professor Egglestone added: “As Mark suggests, technically there’s a lot of things that need to work together to deliver something like this. It’s not just capturing the data in the searing heat or ensuring it gets to us over here in the UK from the middle of the desert, it’s making sure everyone knows what’s needed when and that they have some understanding of why it’s needed.”

“The communication between the team members at UCLan, Fieldcraft Studios and Kingston University has made this part of the process a breeze compared to actually running across a desert and we’re all rooting for Ran and wish him well over the next few days and few hundred kilometres, he added.  

To discover daily updates on Sir Ranulph’s race as it happens, head to the Marie Curie Twitter page, or look for the #runRanrun hashtag.

To donateText RUN to 70007 to donate £5 or visit his Just Giving page

Sir Ranulph Fiennes at startline for Marathon des Sables

Sir Ranulph Fiennes at startline for Marathon des Sables ©Liz Scarff

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