- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) - Most people who asked Oregon State University students Alex Jacobson and Ryan Kalb about the bus in their driveway assumed they’d bought it as a party bus. Others asked if it was stolen.

“We were shocked by how many people were interested,” he said.

A Facebook posting showing the pair parking the Corvallis city bus in their driveway generated more than 300 likes.

They both are electrical and computer engineering majors, and have a little something different in mind: they plan to convert the bus into a mobile electronics lab that would visit schools to teach students about the “Internet of Things.” That is the idea that everything from appliances to sprinkler systems eventually will have embedded computer chips and sensors in them that are connected to the Internet, which will enable programming and remote control.

“We wanted a topic that involved software and hardware interacting,” Kalb said. “(The Internet of Things) is very new, and not many people know about it; it seems like that’s the next step forward.”

Roommates Kalb and Jacobson, who live near Jackson Avenue and 21st Street, said their goal is to make every element of the bus programmable: the lights and doors could be remotely controlled. The bus’ exterior electronic sign, which formerly displayed routes and stops, could display messages that were Tweeted to the bus (once the messages have been passed through a language filter, that is).

Jacobson, a second-year student at OSU who interned in research and development with drone maker 3D Robotics, said his ambition is to make the entire bus voice-controlled via an operating system that would be a little like the operating system for Iron Man’s suit in the recent Marvel movie.

Kalb knows a little something about remote controls. He even works remotely - from Corvallis - for Palo Alto-based electric car manufacturer Tesla. He said he’s interested in modifying the bus by adding warnings, such as one to alert the driver if the bus drifts out of its lane. Sensors also could give the driver more information about vehicles, objects or people in the bus’ large blind spots and assist the driver with parking.

“We actually want to make it a smart bus,” he said.

The seats will be removed to make room for equipment and educational displays, he said, but some legacy parts, such as the bus’ cash box, will be kept - and converted into a donation box.

Kalb said they got idea for converting the bus in mid-March, when they saw it for sale on Craigslist during finals week. They initially thought to make it a mobile headquarters for all their electronics gear, but they eventually decided to go for the larger conversion.

After a few weeks of discussion, they bought the bus for $3,600, with contributions from family and friends. The Corvallis Transit System had sold it at auction to recycling company Magnet for Metal LLC, which resold it to Kalb and Jacobson.

“It’s fun for us to do something crazy like this,” Kalb said.

Both Jacobson and Kalb said they have experience in the do-it-yourself electronics field; Jacobson has built things like a “Guitar Hero” game controller that connected to a candelabra that shot flames in the air. Kalb also has built his own solar-powered car.

“We do have experience in big projects,” said Jacobson.

Jacobson said they’ve not yet made any commitments for what to do with the bus because they still are working on figuring out the next steps in the bus conversion.

Kalb said they might seek funds through Kickstarter or some other crowd funding source, but they’d like to find a sponsor such as Intel, which makes chips used in many DIY electronics projects.

Kalb said they are taking a tiered approach to the conversion; they’ll do more extensive conversions if they find the funding to support them.

Jacobson said the two might do some small side projects on the bus this spring. He plans to drive the bus home to California at the end of spring term, and do much of the conversion this summer in time to begin university visits this fall or next winter.

Jacobson said Sunday that based on social media posting alone, they’d already heard from people interested in having the bus visit their school. The interest was so strong that they decided to buy the web address yesweboughtabus.com, which links to a Facebook page on the project.

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Information from: Gazette-Times, https://www.gtconnect.com

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