Hackerspaces at Maker Faire Show and Tell How to Build a Better Detroit

8/2/10

Nate Bezanson sits at a table beneath the i3Detroit hackerspace tent at last weekend’s Detroit Maker Faire in Dearborn, MI. In front of him are two flashlights—one labeled “stock” and the other labeled “hacked.”

The “stock” flashlight is your normal store-bought halogen model, the “hacked” one looks very much like it’s been, well, hacked to pieces and then put back together. Instead of the normal bulb, this one features LEDs.

“I’m not a big fan of the incandescent bulb,” says Bezanson. “It’s been around for a century and it hasn’t done us any favors.”

Bezanson has this simple display in front of him for two reasons.

First, he really is fascinated by LEDs and their possibilities for the future. “I’m building lights you can’t get commercially,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

The second reason, though, gets at the heart of what hackerspaces like i3Detroit are trying to accomplish—to spark the imagination of people who might at first be intimidated by the whole “maker” culture that’s burgeoning around Detroit. Flashlights are easy to understand, so adding LEDs are relatively easy, Bezanson says. You simply need to know how to connect a few wires and put the thing together. So, within that, you can get creative and “the sky’s the limit as far as what shape you want the light to be. It’s an easy thing for people to get into.”

Plus, you have a friend or someone else in your hackerspace who is a designer? An artist? Let them have a go at a new flashlight design. The result is a final product that is new, brighter, cleaner, and something that nobody else has created before. See? It’s easy to become a maker.

Representatives of Detroit-area hackerspaces came out in force for the Maker Faire, sponsored by O’Reilly Media’s MAKE Magazine. Most of them will tell you that their main mission is education and outreach to the community. These are not introverted geeks who just like to be alone with their toys. They recognize that they are part of a larger movement of hope for an improved entrepreneurial culture of inventors—one that holds the best chance of rescuing the city they love.

It’s why Bezanson first got together with some like-minded friends at a coffee shop a little more than a year ago. He had all the stuff he needed in his own garage to tinker to his heart’s content. But something was missing.

“Even if you have all the same tools in your own garage, what you have here is the social aspect,” Bezanson says. “People to talk to, to show off to, to bounce ideas off of. No matter what skill level you are, there’s someone you can teach stuff to and someone who can teach you stuff.”

Bezanson places the appeal of the hackerspace into three main categories. Eighty percent … Next Page »

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