Introduction: Rainbow Run: a Competitive Learning System

Rainbow Run was developed to provide an interactive learning system that combined physical and mental activity in a fun and engaging way. The system was designed to encourage participants to be physically active and competitive, while at the same time learning information through repetition. Physical activity has been proven to boost memory recollection, and Rainbow Run emphasizes on this through competitive physical activity.

The motivation behind our research was an article published in the Journal of Neuroscience in September of 2005 entitled "Exercise Enhances Learning and Hippocampal Neurogenesis in Aged Mice." The research detailed in this article found that mice who exercised were more successful in navigating a maze that they had previously navigated. Based on this research we incorporated the knowledge that physical activity positively influences learning and memory into the development of Rainbow Run.

(Van Praag, Henriette, Tiffany Shubert, Chunmei Zhao, and Fred H. Gage. "Exercise Enhances Learning and Hippocampal Neurogenesis in Aged Mice." Journal of Neuroscience 25.28 (2005): 8680-685. Exercise Enhances Learning and Hippocampal Neurogenesis in Aged Mice | Journal of Neuroscience. 21 Sept. 2005. Web.)

Step 1: Materials

Tools Needed:

  • Laser Cutter Machine
  • 3D Printer
  • Soldering Iron
  • Sandpaper
  • Saw
  • Hammer


  • 1/8"x12"x24" Baltic Birch Plywood - 18-20 pieces: Amazon
  • 2"x10"x8' Lumber - 2 Pieces: Lowes
  • Arduino Mega: Sparkfun
  • USB: A Male to B Male 6' Cable: Amazon
  • Diffused 10mm LEDs - 75 total (we purchased 15 each of 5 colors: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, and Blue) - Sparkfun
  • Breadboard - at least 35 pins (we purchased a Giant Breadboard) - Sparkfun
  • 22 AWG Wire - 400'-500': Sparkfun, RadioShack
  • Wood Glue: Lowes
  • Electrical Tape: Lowes
  • Paint - 2 colors (we used Red and Green): Walmart
  • Fabric - Black, 8-9 Yards, approx. 4-5 ft width: Walmart
  • Copper Tape - 1/4", approximately one roll

Step 2: The Boxes

Rainbow Run features 10 5x5x5 inch boxes, each with 5 LED holes laser cut into the top. The boxes were designed in Adobe Illustrator and cut onto the Birch Baltic Plywood with the Laser Cutter.

The breadboard and Arduino are housed in a 10"x10"x10" box, also designed in Adobe Illustrator and cut onto the Birch Baltic Plywood with the Laser Cutter. This box has a 1.5" hole on one side to feed wires through, and we designed a team logo on two sides of the box (optional).

Once cut, the boxes were then put together using wood glue. We left the tops open on all the boxes for easy access to the wiring inside.

Step 3: The Buttons

The Buttons are a two layer system. The bottom layer was made by cutting the planks into 9" sections, then sanding the side for a smooth finish as needed. The top layer was made by laser cutting pieces of the Birch Baltic Plywood into 10"x9" sections, then cutting a shape out of each piece. We designed 5 unique shapes, and cut 4 of each shape so that each competitor would have 2 buttons of each shape and 10 buttons, for a total of 20 buttons in the system.

We also designed a simple universal button that would fit into all the shapes. This button serves two purposes - to aid us in testing the system, and to allow the system to appeal to a wider age group. The universal button allows younger children to interact with Rainbow Run without having to worry about matching the right shapes to the right button holes.

We also designed a handle that would fit onto all of the button shapes to make it easier to use the shapes. The handles were 3D printed, then glued onto one side of the cut out shapes. On the other side of the shapes we laid parallel strips of copper tape (this is used to complete the circuit and operate the button - see step 4).

Step 4: Wiring the Individual Boxes

Each box has 5 LEDs, each of which needs to be wired to a positive and a negative. We cut the male ends off of 10 Male-Female wires, and the female ends plugged into the LED. To the (former) male ends we soldered a small piece of wire. We then soldered all 5 positive wires to one wire, and all 5 negatives to another wire. These two wires ran out of the box through a small hole that we drilled into the side of each box.

This wiring method proved to have two advantages: we could easily remove the LEDs as they simply were plugged into female wires, and only 2 wires run out of each box (thereby eliminating the number of wires we had running throughout the entire system).

Step 5: Wiring the Individual Buttons

For the buttons, we chose to use a complete the (copper tape) circuit approach. We laid two strips of copper tape horizontally across each button. To one strip of copper tape we soldered a shorter wire which would serve as the negative (approximately 1.5' long). To the other strip we wired a longer wire which would serve as the positive (this varies with each button, but long enough to reach the large box and the breadboard at one end of the system).

Once you solder the wires to the bottom layer of the button, then you can glue the top layer of the button on using the wood glue.

Step 6: Wiring It All Together!

We discovered that the best way to do this was to lay all your wiring out on the floor BEFORE you solder anything! We put tape on the floor to signify how far apart our boxes would be (ours were 1.5' apart), then we cut the wires running from the breadboard to each box (with a little slack). You need a total of 30 positive wires - 20 buttons and 10 LED boxes. We also created one central ground line that ran the entire length of the system.

Once all the wires are cut, you can then solder everything together. Each positive wire coming from each LED box gets connected to one wire which runs to the breadboard. Each positive button wire should also be soldered to a single wire to the breadboard (or you can cut a wire long enough to solder directly to the copper tape in the previous step).

We then soldered all the negative wires from each box and button (30 in total) to the common ground wire. At times (particularly in the middle) it was difficult to strip the common ground, so we would cut the wire, strip it, then solder it back together before soldering the individual grounds to it. Make sure that for the boxes all the wires are inside the box before you solder, so that only the positive and negative wires (2) are sticking out (it is hard to feed all the other wires through after the fact).

*The hardest part during this step is wire management, and keeping track of which wire is which. To help, you may want to color code your wires to label them using tape (or your favorite method).

*We also found that the best way to test if all your wiring was successful was to simply write a short code to turn on all the LEDs. If they light up, it is usually a good sign!

Step 7: The Code

This project has 3 essential aspects of the code: Rainbow Run, Color Run, and Quiz.

  • Rainbow Run: Rainbow Run is essentially the idle mode - the LEDs "chase" each other (turn on and off in rapid succession).
  • Color Run: This is the basic game mode. One LED cluster is randomly selected and turns on, then players must race to find the correct shape and hit the corresponding button in order to turn off the LED.
  • Quiz Mode: This game mode randomly selects and prints a question of your choice in the Serial Monitor. Players then race to figure out the correct answer, find the correct shape, and hit the corresponding button in order to get the point and reveal the next question.
    • This game mode is customizable to have any sort of questions you can dream of! While we kept ours as having answers 1-10 (and numbered our boxes accordingly), you could have multiple choice questions or other question formats. We created two question sets - Basic Arithmetic, and Indiana University Trivia.

We ultimately combined all three of these codes into one massive code, and incorporated a way for users to hit a button to signify which game they want to play.

Step 8: The Finishing Touches!

Once we had all the code working, we took the black fabric and cut slits in it so as to poke out our boxes and buttons. This made the whole game look sleeker, and it helped us to manage all of our wires.

We also laser cut into some left over Birch Baltic Plywood two sets of numbers. We painted one set green and the other red, and glued these onto the corresponding boxes in order to make it easier for participants using the quiz mode to identify the buttons corresponding to the correct answer.

To play the game, a user finds the shape that corresponds to the illuminated LED/question, and places it in the correct hole to get a point and call up the next question. The game is designed to be competitive, with two players both trying to get to 10 points.

First Time Authors Contest 2016

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First Time Authors Contest 2016