Introduction: Sparklab - Create a Mass Transit Vehicle

About: Spark!Lab is a hands -on invention studio in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Spark!Lab activities communicate that invention is a process, rather than a single “Aha!” moment; provide vi…

Welcome to Spark!Lab digital. This is an online invention space where you get to be the inventor. There are no wrong answers, and you can create an invention using the pieces provided — or create some pieces of your own. Think like an inventor: how does your design solve a problem?

Create a mass transit vehicle (bus, plane, boat, train, spacecraft or something totally new) with virtual materials — or create your own parts and pieces. Using Tinkercad, you can delete, reshape, duplicate, and create new parts.


  • Free Tinkercad account
  • Inventive creativity
  • "Create a Mass Transit Vehicle" parts from the Tinkercad website

Step 1: Invention Is a Process

There are just two things to keep in mind as you create a mass transit vehicle:

1. The invention process is not always linear, but inventors engage in these steps in some form or another:

  • Think it: Have a great idea for an invention
  • Explore it: Investigate inventions and ideas of the past
  • Sketch it: Draw pictures and diagrams to figure out how your invention might work
  • Create it: Build a prototype or model of your idea
  • Try it: Test your invention
  • Tweak it: Keep improving your idea
  • Sell it: Market your invention to people who might buy it

2. We also know everyone is inventive — and we do mean everyone! Today, you become the inventor. You will try new ideas, take risks, and learn how to keep going when things don’t go as planned.

Step 2: Think It

The first step of the invention process is to "think it," meaning to identify a problem you would like to solve and begin to imagine your solution.

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

What should be included in a safe and efficient mass transit vehicle? What would that look like? How should it be designed to best be used by any person of any ability or age?

Step 3: Explore It

The next step of the invention process is to "explore it.” Inventors ask: “How have inventors solved this problem in the past?” and then conduct research to learn more about the problem they want to solve or to understand solutions that already may exist. They learn from what others have already tried and make sure that their solutions are new or different.

People use vehicles to travel and explore, on water and on land, and in air and in space. Most of these vehicles have many parts and systems designed for the comfort and protect the people inside. These systems can be high-tech or low-tech.

Learn more about vehicles and their history:

Click here to learn about the role of transportation in American history.

Click here to read a Smithsonian Magazine article on the effects of the 2020 pandemic on mass transit.

Watch this video about what mass transit means to people in Indianapolis Indiana.

Watch this video from The Atlantic about see a history of transportation.

Step 4: Sketch It

Inventors use sketching as a way to organize their ideas.

Drawing an idea allows inventors to imagine what their invention might look like and how it will work. Try sketching out your invention before building! Take some time to sketch your ideas, images, and thoughts about what a device that can move through a pipe might look like.

You can sketch your ideas with paper and pencil, or you can try using a digital format. Remember! Inventors rarely get it right on the first try. Whatever the method, you may need to erase and re-draw your invention as you continue to think through how you want to solve the problem.

Click here to learn more about inventors' sketches in the Smithsonian Collection.

Step 5: Create It

Now it is time to build a prototype of your invention idea. In this step, inventors get to see their idea turn into something real. Building a model can also help you learn about any issues there are with their invention design. Your prototype will show the layout and unique features of your mass transit vehicle.

How can you use these virtual materials to create a safe and comfortable mass transit vehicle? What will the inside of your vehicle look like? Where will you people using your vehicle put their personal belongings? How will your vehicle be accessible for all people even those with bikes or wheelchairs?

Click here to go to the Tinkercad site where you can create a mass transit vehicle.

Step 6: Try It

Now that you have created your 3D model, take some time to imagine how people will feel when riding in your mass transit vehicle.

  • Will your vehicle carry people on the land, on the water, in the air or somewhere else?

  • What will power your mass transit vehicle?

  • How many people can use your mass transit vehicle at one time?
  • What are some of the safety features of your mass transit vehicle?
  • Does your invention have a person, computer or something else guiding where it goes?
  • Who is most likely to use your mass transit vehicle?
  • What features make your mass transit device comfortable for users?

Share your 3D model and ideas with others. Ask them for their input about your design.

  • What did they like best about your design?
  • What did they think needed improving?
  • What new ideas did you get by sharing your idea with them?

Step 7: Tweak It

Now that you’ve created your mass transit vehicle, thought about how it will be used, and shared your idea with others, it’s time to tweak your invention! Now is the time to ask yourself, "What changes can I make to improve my mass transit vehicle?”

Inventors typically don't succeed with an invention on the first try. Inventors make changes to their prototypes to make them work better. Usually, they tweak their idea many times before it is finished. Once tweaks are made, inventors test their inventions again. It can take many tries to get it right.

Go back to your design in Tinkercad and tweak it to allow your invention be usable either on land or in the water.

Step 8: Sell It

The final step of the invention process is to sell your idea. Selling your invention is not only about putting it up for sale. Selling an idea often happens when you share your idea with others after you have made your final tweaks.

Tell us about your invention on social media:

  • Who will use your invention?
  • What makes your invention unique?
  • How does your invention work?

We want to hear from you! Follow us on Instagram at @si_invention or Facebook @lemelsoncenter and use the hashtag #sparklab on your posts.