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Getac V110 at Cirque du Soleil

When the Cirque du Soleil Kurios touring production needed the exact right computer they chose the lightweight Getac V110 convertible notebook

by Conrad Blickenstorfer, pictures by Carol Cotton, February 2015

Here at RuggedPCReview we've had plenty of hands-on experience with rugged laptops and tablets from Getac. The company is one of the leading providers of tough, durable computing gear for use in places and situations where failure is truly not an option. That includes patrol cars, ambulances, military, airplanes, and any number of field deployments. And now it includes a circus, and not just any old circus but the world-famous Cirque du Soleil. Yes, that's right. Cirque du Soleil is using Getac.

So Getac invited us to see see for ourselves how and why Cirque du Soleil is using their product. To be more specific, we were to see Kurios, one of Cirque du Soleil's touring productions, in San Francisco, right next to AT&T Park. Kurios — whose full title is Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities — premiered in April 2014 and was performing in San Francisco in early 2015.

What Cirque is using: the Getac V110 convertible laptop computer

The Getac model used at Cirque du Soleil is the Intel Haswell-powered V110 convertible laptop. What is a convertible laptop and how does it work? It's simple. The screen part of the notebook has a rotating hinge so that the laptop can be closed with the LCD facing up. This way it can be used both as a notebook and as a tablet. The sequence below shows how it works.

The idea of combining laptop and tablet functionality has been around for quite some time. Many customers loved the dual functionality, but not so much the relative heft of the solution. What the Getac V110 brings to the table is not only exemplary ruggedness but also state-of-the-art technology and, most importantly, a much thinner profile than older designs, and a lot less weight. And that apparently is what caught the eye of David Greatrex, the show's Director of Automation.

Kurios — the incredible steampunk dream

While Cirque du Soleil is primarily known for its incredible aerial acrobatics, the Quebec-based international company's productions often branch out in new and wondrous directions. The story line in Kurios is that of a 19th century inventor who creates a machine that manipulates space and time, and immerses the audience in a dazzling, mysterious realm that disorients senses and challenges perceptions.

As we filed into the massive circus arena located on the AT&T Park parking lot, it seemed impossible to believe that it was all 100% self-contained, with the traveling Kurios team bringing and setting up everything. The atmosphere was unique, filled with a seemingly endless variety of brass and glass and copper machines and gizmos and widgets and oddities. This must have been what people envisioned the future to be back in the late 19th century.

Gearing and winding up for the show apparently was part of the spectacle, with things whirring about, characters wandering this way and that, a suspended bridge arching over everything, with what seemed like audience members walking over it, being part of the impending show. Maybe that's what it was like when steam ruled the world, and not computers and gas and electricity. Getting started was part of the journey.

I must admit that I sometimes cringe when I see Cirque du Soleil performers twist and bend their bodies into positions the human body surely wasn't designed for, but judging by the exceedingly odd look and variety of characters emerging on the scene, Kurios promised to be much more than just death-defying acrobatics. We truly had no idea what to expect. Was it going to be scary, like the hulking creature in the picture below insinuated? And what about that professorly type who rushed this place and that, and seemed extraordinarily exasperated?

What followed is truly hard to describe. While there is a story line to Kurios — that of the bumbling inventor-professor, called The Seeker, finally getting his machine to work and finding a dimension where the possible and the impossible meet — it is really an all-encompassing, endlessly fascinating, logic-defying, senses-overloading, brain-busting gorgeous experience like none other I have ever witnessed. Yes, it's that. You could get lost just concentrating on one of the seemingly endless sub-plots and objects and machineries and people. Soon you just lean back and take it all in.

What does become obvious is that Kurios is indeed a "cabinet of curiosities" though that is perhaps a vast understatement. There's magic, there's incredibly weird stuff, there are aerial displays of various sorts, there are things that do not seem possible, and yet they are. Much makes no sense at all, and thus fits right in.

With all this going on, it was hard to mentally tear myself away from the sheer wonder of it and try to see what makes it all possible. Since there is no magic (at least that we know of), Kurios relies on an almost unbelievable level of technology to make it all happen. That technology anchors and supervises and protects everything and makes everything possible. It's in structures and beams and machines and sensors and gears and wheels and motors, all functioning just barely behind all the dazzling lights and the smoke and the mirrors.

It is that technology that makes it all possible. And, more importantly, keeps the performers safe. While regular circus and acrobatics acts have very visible nets and such, such crudeness is beneath Cirque du Soleil. Which doesn't mean it isn't there. It is, in great force. And it's all measured and managed and monitored and controlled to the most minute detail.

Specifically, every wire, every motor, every pulley, every gear is calibrated to do exactly what it needs to do to make the show possible, spectacularly, logic-defyingly. And safely. Sensors measure the tension of every rope, every net, every position, every movement. Nothing is left to chance. It's all one big computerized system, specifically designed for just the spectacle that is Kurios.

And that is where the Getac V110 comes in. No, it's not running the entire show. But it's running the software that keeps track of everything. While much of Kurios looks like magic, it's really physics. And physics is action and reaction, and much of that means the exact right loads, timing and tension. The giant trampoline net, for example, relies on constant tension monitoring at various point to let the performers do their stunts. And everything, every value, is being logged, so that issues during shows can be examined and remedied later.

David Greatrex, director of automation for Kurios (above on the right), explained how these shows run for 10 to 12 years, requiring a full automation system with expensive, intricate equipment, systems and programming. So Cirque du Soleil made the conscious decision that the computers they use for a show must last the lifetime of the show and all the other equipment. That's because the software and automation system are industrial quality and not designed to be constantly upgraded and changed.

Cirque du Soleil needed a system that not only could handle the proprietary Siemens automation software, but also all of their inspection systems, operational and safety documentation, virtual sign-off processing, document management for all the schematics of all systems and every single connection and every single datapoint in the system. And it needed to be light and handy enough to go anywhere, and tough enough to not only last but also handle the bump and grind of life on the road. Then there are the little things, Greatrex said, like the ease at which they can dial screen brightness way down during shows.

Greatrex and Kurios publicist Amélie Robitaille then gave us a tour of the backstage of Kurios where artists unwind, discuss the performance, and work on details. We had a chance to examine some of the fascinating props used in the show, all curiosities in their own right.

Below is Getac's John Lamb with David Greatrex and his Getac V110 convertible notebook computer with serial number 19! That Getac V110 has on it every single piece of software of every single system Kurios runs.

The Getac V110. Intel 4th generation i5 or i7 processor, 11.6-inch multi-touch screen, 4.4 pounds, up to 13 hours battery life, IP65 sealed.

And that was that, a fascinating evening in a fascinating place that challenged our senses and dazzled our minds. Followed by a very rational explanation how it all works and how rugged mobile computing technology from Getac is at the center of it all. Impressive indeed. -- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, February 2015


See Kurios
See RuggedPCReview's report on the Getac V110
See Getac's V110 page
Cirque du Soleil Kurios