The connected opera singer: Part 3, touring

By | 5 minute read | February 2, 2017

Life on tour

Touring is one of my favourite things. Fellow cast members and production team become your best mates (for a while at least). You get to see the country, or even the world; to try new varieties of exotic grub and booze and amuse the locals with your brave attempts at conversation in their language. It’s awesome.

But there is a down side, and it comes in the form of a lack of home comforts. Long hours on the road. Odd meal times because performances fall in the dinner slot. Occasionally less-than-ideal living quarters.

So can the IoT help take the pain out of the process and leave us only with the enjoyable parts? Let’s find out.

Setting the scene: the challenge of travel

Touring with a big-ish company comes with some luxuries. They’ll put you up in a nice hotel, or find you digs with a cheery landlady who cooks you sausages and asks after your Mum. You’ll probably be able to afford a train instead of the Megabus. You are looked after. Pampered, even.

With companies on a more limited budget it’s a different story. You might be on your way to the kingdom of Far, Far Away for a performance with a total cohort of five singers, production team of two, conductor and five-piece band; all of you sharing a minibus and possibly sleeping quarters. It’s compact. Opera without all the calories. Genuinely awesome fun, but not luxurious by any means.

Whether we like it or not, touring means travel, and lots of it. Late-night, post-show, bleary-eyed knackered travel. Some poor unfortunate has to do the driving, and as they’re usually involved in the show (and therefore worn-out themselves) the task of carting everyone back home or onto the next venue can be a miserable one. This is something that car insurance providers are well aware of – musicians face among the highest premiums of any profession.

The IoT solution: self-driving cars

What if, courtesy of the IoT, you could tour in a vehicle that drives itself? You’d have a chance to catch up on some sleep, or play games, or have something to eat. Bliss! Utopia! The moon on a stick! But is it even possible? Well – almost, yes.

Enter Olli, the connected shuttle bus: your new best friend and self-driving genius. Olli, which is already enjoying successful trials on the streets of National Harbour Maryland and Berlin, was created by Local Motors, the start-up famous for creating the first 3D car, in collaboration with IBM Watson’s AI know-how.

It, or rather, ‘he’, is a conglomeration of sensors, complex analytics and reactions so fast they’ll make your eyes water. He reacts to the presence and location of other traffic on the road, understands smart mapping and can even answer questions as to your whereabouts (“Are we there yet?”), suggest sight-seeing activities and make restaurant recommendations. Olli is like a virtual tour guide on wheels.

You can see Olli in action in the video below:

When do we get to eat? Staying healthy on tour

Next up: food. Mealtimes on a show day tend to be slightly odd – either 5pm or 10.30pm. A big meal right before singing isn’t ideal – you don’t want to be stuffed, or fall victim to an attack of reflux thanks to a too-recently-ingested pasta and tomato sauce combo. Neither do you want to eat too little and feel dissatisfied during the performance. Eating out regularly doesn’t always equate to a healthy diet, either, especially if red meat is your go-to option.

So how to stay healthy on tour? Well, knowing exactly what you’re eating is one way. And I mean exactly – down to the last gram of fat. There are some IoT tools that can scan your food and give you a summary of its nutritional information: carbohydrate, protein, fat, sugar, calorie count and so on.

The DietSensor, from ConsumerPhysics, is one such tool. It’s an SCiO scanner and app combo that uses infrared spectroscopy to analyse how the molecules in your food vibrate. The resulting dietary information is transmitted to the app via Bluetooth, and added to your personalised diet tracker, so you can find a routine that works for you.

Of course, the DietSensor can’t choose your food for you. You have to do that. But it might serve as a demotivator if you too often succumb to a post-show kebab and chips binge and are worried about the effects of long-term over-indulgence.

Restaurants are just too busy

Another consideration when eating out is how busy the restaurant is. You want somewhere with enough space to seat your group, and not so loud that you end up screeching to one another over a cacophony of background conversation, loud music and clatter of cutlery. Don’t want to strain “la voce” (dahling), do we? No siree.

So we’ll call on Google Maps to help us out. A new live feed (originally an extension to the Popular Times feature) can show you in real-time just how busy a café, bar or restaurant is by using searches and anonymised location data from other Google users, and sending the information straight to your phone. So it’s easy to avoid busy restaurants without trawling from one place to another.

Speaking the language (with a little help from Google)

Of course, you might be touring abroad, in which case familiarity with foreign languages is a bonus. Many singers are reasonably at home in French, German and Italian (familiar enough to order food and ask the way to the station, at least,) but what about further afield? What if you can’t recognise individual letters of the alphabet, let alone string them into words or sentences?

Here, Google’s translation tool can help. It makes a reasonable stab at real-time translation and has recently expanded into Japanese with the help of the new Word Lens feature, which allows users to fetch a real-time translation of signs, menus or anything with Japanese text on it, just by pointing a camera at them. No more getting lost on the subway or mistaking bleach for detergent.

The complete survival guide

So this concludes our little series about singing and the IoT. I hope you enjoyed it. If you missed parts one and two, you can catch up by following the links below, and do share your thoughts in the comments. Ta ta for now.