4 Makerspaces That Came Together to Work on Big Projects

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In 2009 I had a crazy idea. My town at the time, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, needed a hackerspace. I teamed up with a bunch of other makers who thought the same, and it’s been a wild ride ever since. I love being a hackerspace/makerspace member; tool sharing is great, but the real key to it all is the people. We all come from diverse backgrounds with even more diverse interests and skills. When you bring this all together, bigger, more creative, and more challenging projects can be accomplished than most anything you’d do on your own.

Here are a few of the great projects that some of these spaces have created or are currently working on — get inspired, and then make your way to your local makerspace to find out what you can help with.

1. The Roaming Tardis

HackPittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

Photo by Joachim Hall

When local distillery Wiggle Whisky decided to hold a competition for a creative way to move their barrels of whisky through the streets of Pittsburgh, my good friends at HackPittsburgh answered the call with an out-of-this-world project — a motorized Tardis replica from Doctor Who.

They started with wood-working plans to make the iconic, blue police box, and member Bob Burger created a custom circuit to make the light on top pulse like its TV counterpart. They made use of the shop’s laser cutter and vinyl cutter to create the other accoutrements necessary to make it a true Tardis.

HackPGH president Chad Elish and member Joachim Hall motorized it with a discarded electric wheelchair base. Now in parades and events across Pittsburgh, you will often find a blue British police box zipping down the street entertaining all those who see it.

2. Fat Cat Hot Shot

Fat Cat Fab Lab, New York, NY

Photo by Andrew Coy

Two days before World Maker Faire last fall, I noticed hurried activity at Fat Cat Fab Lab in New York City. The team was feeling that familiar Maker Faire crunch as they attempted to complete their massive pingpong-ball-shooting Space Invaders game. I fell in love with this project as it hit so many of my favorite Maker Faire project criteria: big, cool-looking, interactive, and pointlessly fun.

Dreamed up by Fat Cat member Zack Freedman, seven members of the lab worked on the Hot Shot for four months to make it come to life. The team used every tool in the maker toolbox: laser cutters, CNC machines, multiple microcontrollers, LEDs, and even tossed in their shop-vac to help power it.

Hot Shot was a huge success at the Faire. Kids and adults alike were lining up to have their turn blasting little laser-cut aliens with the air-powered pingpong balls.

3. SXSL Sign

Digital Harbor Foundation, Baltimore, MD

Photo by Christopher Drew

Last fall, as one of the final hurrahs of the Obama administration, the White House held a South by Southwest (SXSW)-inspired bash that they named South by South Lawn (SXSL). One invited attendee was Maker Faire regular and MythBuster extraordinaire, Adam Savage. Being a nonstop maker, he teamed up with the amazing youth-focused makerspace, Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF), to build an interactive sign heralding the event: the SXSL letters.

The letters, designed by Jen Schachter, came out to around 7-feet tall. The front of each letter had frosted acrylic and the inner boxes had strips of RGB LEDs, programmed by Shawn Grimes to change colors, responding to tweets sent out by attendees as they stood in line for their turn taking selfies with the colorful masterpiece. DHF made sure that even their youngest members had a chance to join in the fun of working with Adam, and assigned the task of hand painting the letters. Those letters now dominate the search results for “SXSL.”

4. Moat Boat Paddle Battle

Ocean State Maker Mill, Pawtucket, RI

A few years ago, my wife and I were talking about what to bring to Maker Faire that could show 3D printing’s potential. She remembered racing paddleboats in 7th grade, and the idea took off from there. We went to the other members of our hackerspace, Ocean State Maker Mill in Pawtucket, RI, to discuss the idea. Moat Boat Paddle Battle was born.

Setting racers against each other in a drag-race-style competition down a 12-foot trough, the Moat Boat Paddle Battle has two major rules: Your boat must be 3D printed, and it can only be powered by elastic. With the race sponsor, SeeMeCNC, offering a 3D printer, competition has been intense. Our first races separated the entrants into different classes so adults wouldn’t dominate the younger competitors. However, it was the adults who needed the protection as the kids brought their A game. Last year’s winner at World Maker Faire in New York, Luke, was only 12 years old. Luke was a veteran racer though, coming in second place the year before and redesigning his boat himself, determined to take the win.

Photo by Spencer Zawasky

We have now brought the race coast to coast, featuring it at both Maker Faire Bay Area and World Maker Faire. We will be back at World Maker Faire in September, so fire up your CAD and heat up your extruder — it’s race time.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Matt is a community organizer and founder of 3DPPVD, Ocean State Maker Mill, and HackPittsburgh. He is Make's digital fabrication and reviews editor.

View more articles by Matt Stultz


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