Tech by VICE

Essential Tech for Rally Car Racing 10,000 Miles Across Eurasia

I would rather have and not need than need and not have.

by Matt Cook
Jul 30 2015, 12:50pm

Our satellite tracker. Photo: Matt Cook

This is the third in a series of dispatches. Read more about why we're sponsoring a jalopy in this year's Mongol Rally.

KOSOVO — The Nikola Tesla Memorial Center is nestled in the small Croatian town of Smiljan. I discovered the place while researching for our cross-continent journey. Justin and I are both Tesla fans, and both really wanted to go, so we figured out a driving route that took us right there. Then our car broke down, and our schedule was pushed back a day—the one day the museum was closed. We had to drive on, and missed it.

It got me thinking about the technology we have with us, and the tech we don't.

Charging our camera and video kit. Photo: Matt Cook

The first thing I packed was the camera gear. Five GoPros, two Nikon DSLR bodies with assorted lenses, and my smartphone. I would use two of the GoPros as dedicated dash cams and the other three for whatever the situation required. The camera gear was a no brainer. I wanted to bring it all. Whether or not it would all get used wasn't the point. I would rather have and not need than need and not have.

Maps came second to good photos and video. I felt the best choice for us was to use digital imagery and traditional maps, and loaded up a second smartphone with all of the maps we would need along the way. For some legs of the trip, I planned to download maps from Google Maps for offline use. We would later end up buying a paper map of Europe, which has proved a valuable tool when network connectivity is hard to come by.

Tyler and Justin, routing. Photo: Matt Cook

We wanted to track our progress too. Given my position on DARPA's TransApps team (I should mention, I work on DARPA's TransApp project), I really wanted to implement that technology during our trip. Per its official description, DARPA's Transformative Apps (TransApps) program "provides a secure software suite for enhanced soldier situational awareness. Using TransApps devices, a soldier can collect, access and share any tactical data that might be needed in the field - from high-resolution map imagery and unit positions to mission plans and medical evacuation procedures." The system is based on commercial Android smartphones modified for extra security.

Unfortunately we were unable to get a custom build together in time. This left a hole in our checklist that needed to be filled. We asked other teams in this year's Mongol Rally what they were doing, and were turned onto a satellite tracker that could share our location online in real time. This was critical to our website and online presence generally—we wanted our followers to be able to see where we were live, all the time.

Our location at time of writing. Track us live here.

And then there's our car's radio, which only flashed an error message and played static. That had to be fixed. We settled on a bluetooth-operated, USB-powered pill-type speaker.

I've already used a range of apps, for language translation, currency conversion, offline navigation, and all those GoPros. But having found ourselves disconnected most of the time thus far has been challenging, especially when navigation relies on smartphones. It's a connected world. At least we have power, as the phones can be charged by USB, and I made sure to also bring along a basic four-port charger. We're good—as long as our cigarette lighter doesn't break next.

Brian Castner contributed to this dispatch.