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

8/2/10

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I’ve talked to has wanted precisely this for at least a decade. And it’s just now coming together.”

To Sliwinski, it’s about not speaking in absolutes regarding what direction technology and entrepreneurship in Detroit should go. It’s about being flexible, open and, most important, “engaged” with what is happening at the grass-roots level.

Wandering around i3Detroit members’ projects at Maker Faire, it’s easy to see what he means. One member built an open-source remote control quadcopter. Another has a “Steampunked, RFID-driven globe and tablet PC.” The Steampunk parts of it, I suppose, were the Victorian-style goggles the inventor wore, and the old-fashioned looking globe he used. Stick a tag anywhere on the globe, and a Google map of the area pops up on the tablet.

And, yes, Steampunk style was in abundance at the Maker Faire. In a way, it fits in with the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, where you are surrounded by the spirit of past inventions, ones that eventually evolved into today’s automobiles. However, Steampunk is also, in the words of one of the Maker Faire peddlers selling $100 Steampunk-style goggles, nostalgia for a “time that never was and [you] wish there had been.”

As much as I enjoy the kitschy fantasy of Steampunk, I personally reveled in what is really happening today in terms of using available technology and tools to create experimental contraptions. While they may or may not have practical use, these machines still show that entrepreneurship is alive and well—and has a future— in Detroit.

For example, I met Harish Chander, an 11-year-old boy going into the sixth grade in Canton, MI. He built an automatic toilet roll dispenser using parts he raided from his own toy box, including sensors from a Lego Mindstorms kit. But that’s only the beginning, he told me. When he grows up, he wants to be a pediatric oncologist. So, his next project is a medical robot.

“I’ve already started the medical robot,” Chander says. “But I had to break it apart to build this [he points to his toilet paper dispenser]. It has four-wheel drive, carries a first-aid kit and follows the nurse.”

Steampunk, hell. I’ll bet my money on this 11-year-old punk who just might change the real world. Like Bezanson’s hacked LED flashlight, Chander, too, used the available materials of his own time, hacked together from his own toy box.

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