Are you a do-it-yourselfer grown bored with the tools at hand? Maybe your electronics tinkering box isn’t doing it for you anymore? Your new project won’t fit in the shed?
Enter ATX Hackerspace, a warehouse with industrial-strength tools and a 100-member-strong community of projectistas with some serious technical skill and a credo that welcomes all (the stated mission is to “support technical, scientific and artistic skills.”) The space’s tools include a laser cutter, 3D printers, a MIG welder, lathe, belt sander, band saw, industrial sewing machine and, well, you get the idea. Tools of the trade (laser cutter, 3D printers, sewing machine, belt sander).
I visited the Hackerspace on a Tuesday evening during the weekly open house. Entering through a nondescript door in an anonymous North Austin industrial office park, I never guessed the extent of the invention waiting inside. After passing through a small front room complete with hacked arcade game, a brief orientation was held in the hallway filled with member projects and spare parts (anything on the “hack shelf” is free to be cannibalized for parts. Items on the “hack top shelf” can be used but not pulled apart.) From there the space opens up to the project floor. You might suspect that most of the creations are electronic – and many are – but on the night of my visit I saw remnants of all manner of projects including a car motor partly disassembled and the laser-cut skeletons of rocket ships.
Martin Bogomolni and his quadcopter.
The ATX Hackerspace is two years old and functions as a coop (though technically an LLC). Anyone is welcome to join but you'll need to spend some time there and get signatures from seven current members in order to make the cut. Dues are $50 a month, and members pool resources to buy project supplies in bulk. The Austin Post caught up with ATX Hackerspace Secretary Michelle Elbert over email and asked her some questions: Is the DIY / hacking world growing? It seems more active these days - is that true, or is it just getting more mainstream visibility?
I think it is six of one, half a dozen of the other. The changes in media and the way people communicate has definitely had an impact on DIYers/Hackers/Makers being able to exchange information and collaborate, it's certainly easier to find out about the cool things people are making... But I think there's always been a larger community of those types of people then you'd expect, it was just not as easy to collaborate or showcase your project to a large audience of people who would be interested in doing something similar. Has MAKE Magazine, or any other publications / websites, made a difference?
I think talking about places where people can get information about cool projects to try could fill a whole publication in and of itself. I do like MAKE Magazine because they have a nice clean layout and the articles are usually clear and interesting. I'm also fond of Instructables.com, thingiverse.com and Hack-A-Day. But there's so much more out there. Chances are, you can find a wiki on a specific platform or specific subject. For instance, I was trying to figure out how to connect the Arduino that controlled the voice for a robot dog to my computer via a bluetooth modem I got from Sparkfun. I ended up finding the advice I needed to make it work on a site about the MakerBot. At the end of the day, all these publications and websites are facilitating Makers/Hackers communicating with other Makers/Hackers. I don't want to play down the importance of inspirational or reference material. But, as a Hacker, my greatest assets are the people in my life. Like my Dad, who's a Systems Engineer and a HAM Radio operator since before I was born. Or my brother-in-law, who does woodworking and likes to make cigar box guitars. Or my friend Melissa who's a pastry chef, or Tara who's been knitting WAY longer then I have... Not to mention all the friends I've made at ATX Hackerspace. So yes. Those publications and websites are VERY important, because they bring people together in any number of ways. What technological advances are transforming the DIY/hacker landscape? Has the Arduino microcontroller made a big difference in this space?
Maybe I'm going to sound like I'm beating a dead horse, but the best thing in my experience about the Arduino is the community around it. Not just message boards and wikis but even businesses like AdaFruit that provide "Shields" to expand the functionality make it a really accessible platform. It's so accessible that you can buy them in a Radio Shack! I hadn't been in a Radio Shack in decades and now I'm the Four-Square Mayor of the one near my home. There's a new platform aimed at education on the horizon called the Raspberry Pi. I know a lot of people are excited about it, but I sadly wasn't able to get an order in on the first run of them before the cut off. As tools like 3D printers, CNC routers, Arduinos, etc. become more affordable, will we see the next wave emerge as machines that make machines?
At the risk of making people who watched a lot of SG1 nervous, they already do that to a certain extent. What are some of the coolest projects that you've heard about being made in Austin?
That's a hard question to answer because it seems like everywhere I turn in Austin there's something cool somebody has made. I think I need to attend a few more DorkBot Austin meetings before I can narrow it down. DorkBot is a group that does monthly events which are essentially show-and-tells for people who do interesting and creative things with technology. For instance there is a gal who calls herself "Party Time! Hexcellent!
" who takes NES consoles and hacks them for use with music performances and art installations. There was also a gentleman and his son who developed a LEGO compatible iPhone case. At DorkBot they talked about the process of designing the case, prototyping and production. It was really interesting, particularly since they now do all their production in Georgetown, just up I-35 from Austin. Are there any other Austin organizations that people should know about, whether that's parts suppliers or other groups dedicated to making stuff?
There's DorkBot, like I mention above. ATX Hackerspace of course. I've been hearing a lot from my other Hacker friends lately about Livid Industry
and I've sadly not had a chance to visit them myself yet. ATX Hackerspace holds an open house Tuesday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and we recommend the trip!