If you want to have cool electronic props in your rooms you have a few options. There are several plug and play props available that typically have some sensors and trigger a mag lock. They might or might not have sound as well. These are pretty affordable. Then there are companies that will build you props that will do pretty much anything. There is a whole host of sensors out there that will trigger anything from lights to sound to fog machines to animatronic talking parrots, as well as your standard mag lock. Paying someone for a custom build is... quite expensive.
Going the DIY route is significantly cheaper, but requires skill. Some props can be made without knowing anything about computers or coding. My reed switch puzzles in previous blog posts are a good example of this. But if you want a real wow factor, if you want the lights and the sounds and the fog machine and the animatronic talking parrot, as well as the mag lock, you've got to learn to code.
My husband is a skilled programer who works as a computer guru in his 9-5. He does almost all of our coding. And that's great, except, he has a 9-5. And while he's great with code, our attempts at him teaching me to code have been... less than successful. As have my halfhearted efforts to teach myself. We really need the both of us to be able to program electronic props, so that if something breaks, I don't have to take the room offline until he gets off work to fix it. And if I'm building a new room, it doesn't have to happen on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 to noon, before we open, but while he's off work. In short, if I could code, our room builds might happen a lot faster.
To that end, for Christmas this year my husband signed me up for Creation Crate, a monthly subscription service that is designed to teach kids how to make small electronics using microcontrollers that are essentially off brand arduinos. The first crate arrived last weekend. Tomorrow I'm going to open it up and see what I can learn.
So. My current skill set is as follows: I can identify most of the components in the crate by sight. I've dabbled in coding before but never enough to actually write a functional program. I know how to solder. I know some basic electronics concepts. And I'm eager to learn. I'll try to write a blog for every project and with any luck, in 18 months I will have mastered arduino and will be able to build and fix some basic electronic props.
Wish me luck.