The Czech public will taste Stratocaching - a new kind of geocaching game - this Saturday. In a world premiere, players will search for dozen of "GPS seeds" gliding down from the border of space, at least 30 000 meters above the ground. These seeds will be dropped from a high-altitude balloon and glide to the ground thanks to their "maple-seed" design.
"We came up with this experiment to promote science through social gaming. This project was a major challenge, and people with different backgrounds provided their expertise," said Jan Kužník, editor-in-chief of Technet.cz and co-author of the project. "All of them are donating their time because they feel it is an innovative and exciting idea."
See the 3D visualization of the Stratocaching project (on YouTube):
Stratocaching can be explained as high-altitude balloon meets geocaching. "We are not aware that anyone in the world has connected these two areas," said Ivan Sobička, co-author and coordinator of the Stratocaching game. "But both near-space photography and geocaching are well-developed already." See Sobička's presentation about Stratocaching (in English).
High-altitude balloons received media attention when the daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumped from 39 kilometers in 2012, using a helium balloon to set this altitude record.
Thousands of people registered for the space treasure hunt
Geocaching has a strong fan-base in the Czech Republic, ranking 4th in the world on Geocaching.com, so it was to be expected to gain an audience. Still, when Technet.cz - the major Czech technology magazine and partner of the project - published an article on Stratocaching, the organizers were a bit surprised by the splash it caused.
"Hundreds of people registered within the first hours. And many companies wanted to sponsor us. Media took notice, and so did the scientists" added Jan Kužník. "It is absolutely exciting, humbling and thrilling at the same time. I really hope it works out, with so many people watching us."
It's not Rocket Science
Many readers and commenters indeed expressed their doubts about the Stratocaching project. "What if it hits somebody? I don't want to find my car broken by this space-experiment. I hope they have a good lawyer," wrote one.
The organizers have since published several articles (on Technet.cz, in Czech) explaining various aspects of the project, precautions and preparations needed for it to be solid, both physically and legally.
"This is exactly why we do this game/experiment in the first place. We want to get people excited about science and technology. The details are just as exciting as the big picture," thinks Pavel Kasík, tech editor for Technet.cz. After all, Stratocaching touches several fields of expertise that had to be addressed:
- physics - stratocaching uses the available information about the stratosphere
- aerodynamics - the seeds had to be designed for slow gliding
- meteorology - providing the know-how of high-altitude balloons
- radio communication - transmitting the signal
- legal matters - how to secure the approval of authorities
- mobile app development and web design - for players to follow
- photography - to get some beautiful near-space imagery
- product design - to design and finish the final Dropion device.
All these topics were discussed extensively in the past 16 months with experts in the respective fields, including academics, professionals, companies and enthusiasts. Now all of these are hoping for good weather this Saturday, 9:00 AM (UTC+1). Space is just a touch away.