Last year a Czech project combining a stratospheric balloon with GPS-locatable pods released and dispersed at random, took the hobby of geocaching to a new level. Although the pods froze and in the end had to be found by chance, the project was still a major success, capturing the imaginations of many and getting international attention.
A little earlier I spoke to one of the creators of the project, Ivan Sobička, and asked him which factors he thought had made the project such a success.
“Our main motto is ‘the magic of experiment’. There is a combination of factors: one, was that the idea was original, no one had ever done it before. Then, it benefitted from being scientific but also using principles of good design: the gondola which held the pods, which was designed by a very talented and good friend. And finally, we built on the very popular hobby of geocaching, which has a strong following in the Czech Republic. Based on the number of geocachers here, we thought the project could be a success.”
How does stratocaching differ from classic geocaching? Obviously you have the pods which go up in the balloon but what is the advantage of stratocaching?
“Well, for one thing anyone interested could take part, not just users registered at geocaching.com. It is a treasure hunt just like geocaching but it was open to everyone. The second and biggest distinction is this: with geocaching the caches are at hidden fixed locations but in the case of stratocaching the pods were scattered, so no one could predict where they would land. I think that unpredictability made it even more interesting. It all depended on the weather, where the balloon would fly, it all depended on the conditions.”
“I think that science is definitely an attraction for many Czechs, many of whom read popular science magazines online or in print. The second thing is that geocaching shares some similarities to Czech pass times like mushroom picking. I think we like treasure hunts and we have a strong hiking tradition and like being outdoors.
“That said, I hope stratocaching will be interesting for other countries as well: we have been contacted by associations and firms from abroad who would like us to replicate the experience there, which is something we are looking forward to trying after we do a second Czech launch this autumn.”