“You to go to Danger Point,” says Andy.
“Oooh, sounds exciting,” I replied, knowing that their jobs are always interesting and they make us a nice drink!
“Not that exciting, you’re working outside and it’s likely to rain,” replies Andy knowing that it often rains in Wales.
“What is it this time,” I asked.
“You need to add a sound effect to some traffic lights,” Andy replies.
“What, those traffic lights you used to get at a disco in the 80s?” I reply (clearly showing my age).
“No, real traffic lights,” says Andy.
“What, like proper traffic lights, like in the street?”
So that was it, off we went to Danger Point to add a sound effect to some real traffic lights. For those of you that haven’t heard of it, Danger Point is a place that teaches school children about keeping themselves safe. Anything from travelling on trains and buses to keeping away from power lines and internet safety. And yes, they really do have real traffic lights, and a real car in a simulated road scene.
Our job was to add a screeching noise just after the green man lit up to simulate a car jumping the red light then stopping. I love a job like this. Don’t get me wrong, I love installing projectors, creative lighting effects and other technology, but there’s nothing better than a job that makes you think.
So, stepping away from the usual tech boxes (although the job still involved some of these) it was down to old-fashioned electronics, making a proper circuit and tapping into the traffic light control system. It made me think about the scene in the film Apollo 13 where engineers on the ground had spent years making every part of the lunar module from scratch, they knew it intimately. But now Apollo 13 was in trouble and all of a sudden they needed a square hose to connect to a round plug, something the engineers hadn’t ever considered.
We can spend lots of time using out of the box solutions, coming across the same old problems and knowing how to overcome them. It’s easy to choose technology we know and are familiar with the workings of rather than risk trying something new and going on an adventure.
So what did those Apollo engineers do? Well, they got to it, they called upon their combined years of experience and training, and they applied all of that to this new situation. Despite the pressure they found a solution. And that’s why I loved this job. Time to step away from the familiar and use some old-fashioned experience, knowledge and brainpower to come up with an inventive solution.
The end result is simple but very effective. The children press the button to cross the road. They’re just about to step onto the road when the screeching blasts out from the speakers. Oh, I forgot to mention, the speakers are hidden under the bonnet of the car. This adds to the effect. On hearing the screeching, the children jump a mile and immediately look at the car. This hands on learning, where the children actually get a shock and realise they haven’t considered the possibility of a car failing to stop, is far more effective than any classroom-based learning. It will hopefully stay with them every time they cross the road in the future and keep them safe.
It was a pleasure to be a part of finding the right solution for Danger Point and to use some brainpower. But even better than that, it was amazing to watch a group of children gain a real sense of the dangers they face, knowing we’d been able to make a difference.
Unfortunately we couldn’t take a video of children actually using the crossing, but here’s a video of the finished result with Tom and I testing it (we did actually cross the road a number of times in the testing phase, we just felt obliged to !).