Technical Content Writer
Students at Lane Tech High School do not have your typical curriculum ― they are learning about embedded sensor technology, digital fabrication, design and problem solving, data analytics, teamwork, and acquiring hands-on experience with the Internet of Things (IoT).
This past spring, students in Dan Law’s physical computing lab at Lane Tech worked with different electronics and tools to build remote controlled blinds, smart lamps, thermostat controllers, and other sensor experiments. These students connected their objects and sensors to the Internet using a Particle Photon, which gave them the ability to monitor and manage these objects wirelessly. By connecting these objects to the Internet, the students were able to collect data on how they behave, how often they are used, or whatever data they wished to track with their sensors.
In the same school, students in Jeff Solin’s Innovation and Creation Lab worked on 10″ cube environments that incorporated laser cutters, 3D printers, vinyl cutters and 3D carvers. This gave the students practice with digital design, digital fabrication, prototyping, and other computer science (CS) skillsets. At first, Dan and Jeff’s classes might seem utterly unrelated, but they are actually giving students all the skill sets they need to design the products of the future.
Welcome to the Lane of Things (aka LofT), an integrated program between Jeff and Dan’s courses that teaches students how to design and build devices that can help them solve problems for themselves and their communities. The program is inspired by, and a spin-off of, the Array of Things project, an urban sensing program that deploys sensors around Chicago.
In previous years, the students have deployed sensors and other experiments around their communities to gather data and learn how people react to them. One of their experiments even allowed students to combine their cultures and experiences by creating a mosaic Chicago flag. This flag unexpectedly caught the attention of WGN 9 news, along with other major newspapers and magazines, after Jeff wrote a blog post about the project. The flag is now being toured around Chicago’s major scientific institutions and will come back home to Lane Tech for a permanent installation after the tour is finished.
While Jeff and Dan have done many innovative projects with their students over the past couple years, they decided to take an even bigger innovative step this year by partnering with an outside organization to give the students real-world experience deploying sensors.
Last Spring, the Chicago Cubs transformed the student’s projects by turning Wrigley Field into a subject of IoT experimentation. Jeff and Dan reached out to Heather Way Kitzes, the Cub’s Director of Community Relations, and Andrew McIntyre, the Cub’s Vice President of Technology, with the intentions of using sensors to learn more about the stadium’s temperature, audio levels, and more. Not only did the Cubs agree to this plan, they allowed students to collect data during the Cubs’ upcoming game against the Cleveland Indians and the San Francisco Giants. Many of the environmental and sound nodes are still deployed today and are still collecting data.
Before the event, students tested weather sensors and checked lines of code to make sure every sensor was gathering data correctly. Students worked all day, building final sensor designs that could withstand crowded and heated environments. Unlike the students’ class projects, these sensors relied on both the Photon and Particle’s Electron, which allowed them to connect their sensors to the Internet over cellular networks since some of the nodes were out of the park’s WiFi range.
On May 22nd, fans left the Wrigley Field stadium to find a kiosk with sensors attached to it. The kiosk asked them about their experience and if they would recommend Wrigley Field to others. Other sensors deployed around the field measured temperature, humidity, barometric, pressure, wind speed, wind direction, and the amount of sound emanating from the ballpark. The partnership with the Chicago Cubs not only allowed students to practice and use IoT development kits, but gave them an opportunity to create IoT applications that had real-impacts on the world.
Jeff and Dan said none of this would have been possible without funding from Motorola Solutions, their partnership with the broader Array of Things (AoT) project and AoT team members like Doug Pancoast, Satyajit Basu, Robb Drinkwater, and Kate Kusiak Galvin. Jeff and Dan have begun sharing the program with other schools, hoping to give all students an opportunity to learn physical computing and embedded technology. If you’re interested to learn more about Lane of Things’ other major projects and experiments, you can learn more by visiting the LTmaker’s site, or searching for Lane of Things projects on Hackster.io.
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