Bucking Bronco: Adaptive Ride Experiment No.1

Bucking Bronco: Adaptive Ride Experiment No.1


Could you control a rider’s experience based purely on their physiological data?

‘Experiment No.1’ featured 3 bankers, each with different attitudes to thrill seeking and risk taking (this work was created at the time of the 2008 financial crisis). Members of the audience were invited to choose a banker who they had to “please, scare, and then excite” by controlling the intensity and combination of buck and spin of their ride. But there was a catch, as the controller wasn’t allowed to see the rider…

This project is closely related to Breathless another biofeedback ride I created around the same time. Breathless concentrated on the relationship between pleasure and discomfort, both social and physiological, manifest through breathing patterns that fluctuate between involuntary and voluntary actions. However, in Experiment No.1 I was most interested in exploring themes covering: gaining and exercising power, vicarious experience, loss of control, risk taking, instruction, authority, and spectacle. The theme of entertainment – fairgrounds with rides like Bucking Broncos, and TV with game shows with Endurance and blind date – was designed to add a veneer of humor, familiarity, and fun. The awkward juxtaposition between the underlying, rather torturous scientific experiment, and entertainment, created an awkwardness in my subject (the ride controller) and onlooking audience. And it is in this space that the real emotional experience had been designed, and was being played out. Perhaps no surprise then that Experiment No.1 has been compared to the Milgram Experiment on several occasions, which has left some University ethics committees a little uncomfortable.

Colliding ideas and technology from Breathless and Experiment No.1, Computer Scientists at the University of Nottingham went on to produce Broncomatic – a fun interactive game most recently exhibited at the National Video Game Arcade.

Bucking Bronco Adaptive Ride Experiment No.1 has featured extensively in the national and international media, including BBC’s Bang Goes The Theory, Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet, and The Times’ Eureka magazine. There’s something about projects with a blend of science, experimentation, machines and entertainment, that captures the public’s imagination.

Experiment No.1 was was commissioned by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, and produced with the University of Nottingham.