Building SpaceBus, a Photon-powered classroom on wheels

Building SpaceBus, a Photon-powered classroom on wheels

iSchool Initiative wanted to get students excited about schoolwork and expose them to problem-based learning and teamwork, so they did what any reasonable group of educators would do: they took the idea of an escape room and made it educational.

With help from Dale Adams and Mike Mooney of Mass Collective, the iSchool team customized the interior of a bus to look like a spaceship heading for Mars in the year 2030 and added Photon-powered interactive puzzles for students to solve to escape the ship.

Escape from the typical school day

Once students join the crew, doors seal on the SpaceBus for the thirty-minute voyage to Mars. Shortly into the mission, the ship reports a problem. Students must work together to uncover what’s wrong and how to avert the disaster before their time runs out.

SpaceBus hardware & software

Photon and power supply

Behind the scenes, the SpaceBus puzzles are controlled using five Photons and a Raspberry Pi. The Pi acts as an MQTT server that routes messages from sensors and actuators connected to the Photons, plays a mission briefing video, and counts down the remaining time to escape the bus.

Photons publish their status using MQTT and control three sets of LED strips placed in the wheel wells, the door, and overhead. An additional Photon with RFID shield actuates the Star Trek style door shown in the video above.

Mike Mooney helped with the planning and installation of the electrical work. Together he and Dale devised a way to wire the Photons to rechargeable batteries and solar panels on the bus roof.

Homework from the year 2030

Finished interior of the Escape Bus

Ultimately, the project took around six weeks to complete. Dale recalls the most significant technical challenge was the door. But the aluminum bus presented a problem for the wireless project. You can see Dale’s project source code in his GitHub repository and learn more about the SpaceBus on iSchool’s site.

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