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

8/2/10

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of it is simply tool sharing. I’ll use your table saw and you can use my welding equipment. You get to the “90 percent level of understanding,” he says, and you see the excitement building, “a lot of passion, and let’s do classes, let’s teach each other, let’s teach the general public, let’s show off and have fun and play around with this stuff.”

What’s that final 10 percent? Benanson gets a little gleam in his eye. “There’s an element to it that you just can’t explain, that you feel as soon as you walk into the space. You start to feel the possibilities turning over in your head.” You just have to experience it to understand it, he says.

The “maker” movement has reached far beyond the level of garage tinkerer, and large corporations are beginning to see the wisdom of allowing this type of experimentation and collaboration. Ford Motor recently announced it is launching a maker space with Silicon Valley-based TechShop. But, just to illustrate the remaining gulf between the cultures, Ford late last week was not yet ready to tell me where the physical space will be located because they were giving it a “final evaluation.” A TechShop representative I approached at Maker Faire on Sunday laughed a little when he heard this, and told me where exactly it will be: 800 Republic Drive, in Allen Park, MI, near Dearborn.

It’s the old, top-down automotive culture that Andrew Sliwinski, a cofounder of hackerspace OmniCorp Detroit, is working against. OmniCorp, which just opened up 7,500 square feet of workshop space in the Eastern Market section of Detroit, does not have a hierarchical structure. “We do things based on passion,” Sliwinski says. And a lot of that passion involves not just getting together to make things, but focusing on reaching out to young people and others with an interest in technology.

At Maker Faire, Sliwinski is instructing a young boy on the art of “circuit bending,” or experimental short-circuiting of low-power electronic devices to create new “bent” sounds. The circuit-bending music provides a background soundtrack to our interview.

I ask him what it is about Detroit, right now, that has prompted a hackerspace movement.

“I think the biggest thing about Detroit, and ‘making’ in general, is just the availability of parts, the availability of tools and the availability of people with really diverse, crazy skillsets that are kind of catered to making things,” he says.

Bezanson, of i3Detroit, believes that these kinds of collaborations have been in the works for at least 10 years, but until the recent national hackerspace explosion happened, nobody really knew what to do with it, or even what to call it.

“It’s always been the right place,” Bezanson says. “It just hasn’t been the right time. Everyone … Next Page »

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