Hackspaces get closer to home

Noisebridge The Noisebridge Banner over the door to the hackerspace in San Francisco

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To the mainstream DIY fan, the shed may be a kingdom of peace, quiet and power tools. But increasingly "social sheds" are springing up around the world.

People come to these places, known as hackerspaces or hacklabs, to meet others, share ideas and make things.

Part of the hackerspace establishment is well-known maker and electronics expert Mitch Altman.

He is one of the founders of his local hackerspace, Noisebridge, now based in the Mission district of San Francisco.

"As a little kid I was beaten up for being geeky. Community is something I always wanted more of in my life."

The idea for Noisebridge was seeded during a visit to Germany, where Mr Altman heard about the benefits of shared maker spaces.

"They looked at what works best for people to help each other," he said. "Me and my friends just knew that we were going to go home and start one in our home town."


Noisebridge is a large space dedicated to open use and the trading of skills.

Members can be found coding, engineering, sewing or anything else related to the hackers' make and do lifestyle.

The only rule is "be excellent to one another".

Gian Pablo Villamil, one of the members, has been working on his own projects in Noisebridge for a year, including a series of brooms that can detect toxins.

They are part of a project with Lynn Hershman Leeson, a San Francisco artist and film-maker.

Start Quote

Everywhere I go, I take a look at the hacker wiki and find out that there is usually a hackerspace nearby”

End Quote Mitch Altman Founder, Noisebridge

The brooms sense toxins in their immediate environment, and signal their presence with lights and sound, and by relaying the information to a computer.

"There are so many individual projects," said Mr Villamil.

"Spacebridge is also based here - they are sending balloons up into the stratosphere with cameras attached."

The Spacebridge faction of Noisebridge has had varied success with their projects.

Their online wiki carries comprehensive notes about sending transmitters into the sky, getting SMS updates on where their objects land back on earth as well as capturing images and other sensor and location data from their flights.

It is one of many interest groups at Noisebridge.

Those who visit can attend beginner classes for soldering and programming basics. They can also choose to join "Tastebridge" for culinary experiments and "food hacking".

In the latter group, members create artisan foods, and brew their own drinks.

Global hackspaces

Mitch Altman is currently touring parts of the Mid-West in the United States and parts of Canada visiting other hackerspaces.

"I go around the world visiting hackerspaces. Everywhere I go, I take a look at the hacker wiki and find out that there is usually a hackerspace nearby in each city. People are always really welcoming, friendly and enthusiastic."

The London hackerspace, known as Laboratory 24, has recently moved to a new location in East London.

Like Noisebridge, Laboratory 24 also contains a Makerbot - a 3D printer that individuals can buy and build for themselves. It uses plastic to print almost anything from a digital design.

makerbot The makerbot at Noisebridge

Many designers are now using these desk-top sized printers to create prototypes of objects in order to see how they may turn out when produced with other materials.

Jonty Wareing started running the hackerspace a year ago and says that most of the tools and equipment have been sourced through the generosity of others.

"The machinery workshop tools came from one guy didn't have enough space and wanted to share," he told Outriders.

"Our Makerbot was bought via a pledge system from the members and community."

Despite the helpful donations, running a hackspace takes plenty of time and effort, according to Mr Wareing.

"I started the hackerspace so I would have somewhere to work but most of my time is spent running it. But it's worth it, everybody loves it here."

You can hear more about hackerspaces in this week's Outriders.

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