The third dimension hits 1,650m atop the Eiger Nordward and it's available for anyone to watch. Mammut alpinists Stephen Siegrist and Dani Arnold climbed the legendary Heckmair route, with a little extra something on their backs – a 360º 'camera cube' which offers video footage from every direction. Matthias Taugwalder, the project's technical director, fills us in on the details of this ground-breaking video project.
Matthias, what's your role?
I put the tech together. I'm a photographer and I specialise in interactive formats, and particularly in the mountains. I've worked with Mammut in the past, and together we came up with the idea of 'street view goes vertical', and then taking it a step further to include video.
What makes this special?
The viewer is supposed to feel like a mountaineer. The experience that pros have on the mountain is now accessible to all – even those who've never been in the mountains. Also, ambitious climbers can sift through the material to prepare for their own climbs. This virtual sharing aspect is really exciting!
The camera itself was custom-built?
Yes. I spent two months building the system out of several existing components. Basically, it's a camera cube of six GoPros, with overlapping pictures and videos assembled on the computer to build a 360º view.
What were some of the challenges?
Making sure it would be functional on the mountain. Can it be handled in extreme conditions? With gloves? How much memory do you need? Can it survive the cold temps? That sort of thing. There were a few refrigerator tests along the way!
The route up the Eiger is also not easy...
And it's not easy on the gear either. We absolutely had to take that into consideration. We tried to make the system both easy to use and robust at the same time, well protected from damage and moisture. On the climb everything went super smoothly fortunatly.
How does it limit the climbers?
It's different for them, but it shouldn't limit them – they should be able to climb to their normal standard. And it's a little more advanced than it looks. It's not just simply attached to their backs. There's a custom aluminum frame that helps maintain the proper distance and perspective.
Why is this pioneering work?
The virtual experience is becoming very popular, with products like the Oculus Rift glasses. I think it's also great when climbers can document their own trip independently, without helicopters circling the mountain and polluting the air.
Is it the end of traditional photography?
No. When it comes to capturing special moments, or creating an artistically challenging photograph, you need the appropriate technology. And it's still the photographer who makes the picture.
What's next for the Mammut project?
Well, we'd like to capture the entire Alps, so there's a little bit left to do!
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