Simon’s Backup Weblog


Aquatechnicians managing Aquatechture

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 1, 2006

The IEEE’s Spectrum has posted a list of the coolest engineering jobs going. Having wielded a mean soldering iron and pipe cutter in my time, Anthony Eckersall’s story is one that was dear to my heart. He specialises in the design and development of complex computer-controlled fountains and water displays. One of his projects was the reworking of the Bellagio’s fountains.

The article takes us behind the scenes of the fountains, which can throw water 160 metres in the air.

Even in a city famous for excess, the Bellagio fountain is exceptional. There are 8000 meters of pipes, 1200 nozzles, and 4500 lights. It cost US $75 million to build and attracts crowds every half-hour. When the show begins, pipes rise from the depths of its 8 acres of water, as if a huge school of dolphins were called to the surface by the music. Water flows from the nozzles in streams that meld into bracelets of liquid diamonds, seemingly suspended in midair. They begin to sway left, then right, then forward and back. Suddenly, more pipes break the surface and with a convulsive kick discharge a mist of water nearly 50 meters into the air. At their summit the new arcs seem to pause, then come crashing down with a sound that nearly drowns out the oohs and aahs from the crowd.

Behind the liquid pyrotechnics is some serious technology, including a host of small robots and two classes of computer controls. The small robots, called oarsmen, point each nozzle anywhere in a 360-degree range. There’s also a show computer, which acts like a stage manager, choreographing the shooters and robots in their hydrodynamic ballet. And there’s a housekeeping brain—a second computer that monitors the water’s pH and its filtering and can override the show computer. Finally, there’s the human brain that programs the electronic ones.

It’s also an excuse to post this collage of photos we’ve taken of the fountains over the last couple of years…

Links to the individual images can be found here

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