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Data dashboard charts Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ desert charity challenge

10 April 2015

Press Office

UCLan’s Media Innovation Studio uses digital data to share  

Photo credit: Liz Scarff

The University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) Media Innovation Studio has teamed up with Fieldcraft Studios and the charity Marie Curie to explore how data can help tell stories with the new Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Marathon des Sables data dashboard.

The dashboard offers an innovative new way to visualise Sir Ranulph’s attempt to complete the 156-mile trek, known to be the toughest foot race in the world, with temperatures reaching up to 50˚C, Saharan sand dunes and limited water and nutrition.

Sir Ranulph is taking on this challenge to raise funds for the charity Marie Curie, who provide care and support to people living with a terminal illness.

Knows as Ran’s Dash, the dashboard - which can be found at www.misprojects.org/ransmds/dash/ - uses a range of sensors and data sets spanning geo-location, heart rate, fluid consumption and calories burnt, and multimedia collected and produced by Fieldcraft Studios who are in the Sahara with Sir Ranulph Fiennes. This all sits alongside expert analysis from Kingston University sports scientists Chris Howe and Dr Hannah Moir who conducted a training session with the great explorer in their heat chamber.

"Working in the Sahara to collect data and content under the unforgiving sun and sand is a challenge. Sensor journalism is an approach we have been exploring."

“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 UCLan.

Sir Ranulph’s data dashboard sits on the website of the charity he’s running for, Marie Curie, and on the Telegraph which is the media partner for the challenge. The dashboard provides a wealth of information as Sir Ranulph heads towards the hardest and final stage of the race this weekend.

Liz Scarff, Director of award-winning communication studio Fieldcraft Studios, said: “Whether running a parliamentary campaign or live broadcasting a cataract operation from rural Malawi, we bring together social media, technology, data and stunning content to find innovative ways to tell stories that capture the imagination and engagement of global audience.

“Working in the Sahara to collect data and content under the unforgiving sun and sand is a challenge. Sensor journalism is an approach we have been exploring and are thrilled to be partnering with the UCLan Media Innovation Studio and Kingston University on the data dashboard.”

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

“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."

Sir Ranuplh Fiennes trekking across the Sahara desert

The Media Innovation Studio daily visualisation is part of its DataMakers project, which seeks to harness innovative uses for data of all kinds and shapes. DataMakers is a research project exploring the curation and distribution of data driven projects. The project aims to work with varying communities to explore solutions to data-related problems. This will be achieved through a collection of off-the-shelf hardware technologies and open source software. The data driven projects will be targeted at varying audiences and distributed through broad range of platforms (games, applications, visualisations and Application Program Interfaces (API’s).

Ran’s Dash is just one example of the projects under the DataMakers umbrella; other projects investigate how air quality sensors can be built into a mobile game. The air quality data will feature in the game mechanics to educate players, and to share data and open API’s within the community for online visualisations.

“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 temperature 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 one it became apparent that neither of these two data sets were available. In the end altitude was gained from a custom built data set and skin temperature would have to be removed from the data break down. These, alongside many more, are factors that need to be considered when designing these types of systems.”

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 last stage and few hundred kilometres,” he added.

People can follow Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ progress and donate on the Marie Curie website - www.mariecurie.org.uk/ranulph or on Twitter via the #RunRanRun hashtag.