Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Seacrh for Maker Spaces

There has been a little twist in the path of my research! The focus now has changed into investigating maker communities and exploring the potential to develop technologies for people with disabilities. So let the hunting begin for maker spaces! I have been turning the spotlight in to the space of maker communities especially around Brisbane. I noticed that these communities go by different identifications such as maker space, hacker space, maker group, maker community, etc. But, more or less they do the same stuff. They get together regularly and develop stuff! What are these stuff? ANYTHING they are curious about!!!

"Hackerspaces are community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects"

I found a hacker space which happens to be based in the Brisbane. They meet regularly at the State Library on every Thursday evening. So, I thought why not have a sneak peak. I hopped into my (renovated) bicycle and rode there. When I entered the room what I witnessed was an unorganized lab space filled with computers, 3D printers, electronic kits, etc. I was not surprised by this scene as I knew this is the nature of maker spaces from the experience.

I was able to have little chit chats with some of the people around - there were around 10 people. The person who was in charge of the meeting described me what is going on. This is a community initiated about 3 years ago. They allow people to turn up as they wish and work on various projects. There were mainly 2 projects going on. One was a development of a 3D printer. It sounded very unrealistic to me. How a person with limited facilities could possibly develop a 3D printer? But, they explained the basic mechanism of a 3D printer and said it is not that difficult to replicate it with some effort. Another team was working on a computer aided multi-purpose cutter. Their idea was to design a cutter that can be operated by a software application using a laptop. It looked like some other projects are also running along. But, I thought may be the people who work on them were off on the day.

I asked one of the people about how to work in there. His response sounded like:
"Hey mate, this is a very unorganized bunch of people. You can have look at any of the projects and give a hand. There are no restrictions around here!!!" 
However, it was not that easy for me to blend into the environment. Most of them were so involved on the projects. I did not feel like disturbing them. it certainly looked like they are having much fun from what they do!

While I was hovering around, one of the guys asked me to sign on using a sheet. When I was trying to put my signature down, I was surprised to notice that there is a section for "Under 18" people. My curiosity was answered in couple of minutes. Bunch of school kids hopped in to the lab. They began plugging in Arduinos to the computers and programming them. Technology has advanced. When I was a kid the labs I knew only had things like chemicals and clay! These kids looked so comfortable with the environment and the electronics. They were accompanied by couple of teachers from their school. When I had a chat with one of them, they told me that these kids are very enthusiastic in developing gadgets. They have arrived there from quite far from Brisbane. So yes, that made sense!

Before I left the place I told about my PhD and the prototypes we built. They were interested to have a look. So maybe I can visit them again next Thursday. I was thinkking that this kind of practices are not so popular in developing countries like my home country - Sri Lanka. What if we can promote these practices there? There will be huge advantages in terms of financial benefits, knowledge sharing and technological advancements. With these thoughts I came out of the lab only to find out that front light of my bike gone dead. I had to leave the bike there as it was too risky to ride in night. On the way home I thought maybe I could piece together a light by myself, it will be FUN!!!