“It’s one of our most beloved exhibits,” Susan Turner, executive director of the Terre Haute Children’s Museum, says of Run With the Animals. “It has been at the museum for a very long time.”
The exhibit features a running track of light-up squares that illuminate at the running pace of various different animals. Children love to pick an animal and see if they can outrun it.
But, beloved as it has been, Run With the Animals had seen better days. “It really was a pain point for guests because it would work sometimes, and wouldn’t work sometimes,” Turner says.
Rose-Hulman Ventures raced to the rescue with an upgrade. Its engineering expertise was a natural solution, because Race With the Animals has longtime ties to Rose-Hulman.
In fact, says Jonathan Labayo, engineering manager at Rose-Hulman Ventures, the concept originated with a senior design team about a decade and a half ago. Their plan was to create an exhibit for kids, offering the choice of eight animals to race against—the fastest being the cheetah at 70 miles per hour.
It was a great concept, but rather capital-intensive. Rose-Hulman Ventures took over the construction and implementation at the Terre Haute Children’s Museum, and kids have been challenging animals ever since. The exhibit’s perennial popularity made it essential to bring it along when the museum moved to new digs.
Labayo says a group of students upgraded the operating software a few years ago, creating a slick new interface and increasing the menu of animals by a factor of about 10. But by last year, the exhibit was getting rather buggy.
“It happened that someone from Rose-Hulman Ventures was making a donation of a hand sanitizer station,” Turner says. “I jokingly said, ‘Hey, I have an exhibit I need some help with!’”
Joke or not, Rose-Hulman Ventures took the request seriously and responded with a new project that included updated, brighter LED lighting on the runway. The computer system, control screen and monitor got upgrades, the software got updates, and the exhibit got a fresh coat of paint. “We wanted to refresh the system to get it back up and running, and make improvements,” Labayo says.
Today, visitors are presented with a map of the world’s continents, which Turner says adds in a touch of world geography education. For each continent, there’s a choice of animals to race. Kids stand a chance against some of them (penguins, for example), but are left in the dust by others. “They’re all about racing cheetahs and lions,” she says. “They want to go fast.”