What Does a Mobile HackerSpace or MakerSpace Look Like?
You may have heard about these “Spaces” that are popping up all over the world. Whether they are called a “HackerSpace”, a “Makerspace” a “Fab Lab”, “Tech Center” or anything else, the goal is the same; to provide tools and knowledge while fostering community. I describe them all as “gyms for your brain.” The equipment is provided for a membership fee, but the workout routine and regiment is up to the individuals. I’ve taught classes at many different spaces across the U.S., all on the concept of microcontroller systems. At each of these spaces the focus and sense of community was a little different, but the incredible levels of enthusiasm and camaraderie were the same. If you’re looking for a way to learn some new skills and meet interesting people I encourage you to check out one in your area! Interested in what it looks like when one person decides to be a walking “Space?” Read on fellow internet travelers. (Click here to skip straight to the hardware list.)
I was honored to be able to lead classes at a large number of these “Spaces.” A few of the “Spaces” that stand out in my memory include I3 Detroit, Noisebridge, Science City, the Allen County and Harold Washington public libraries as well as Artisan’s Asylum (I believe the biggest “Space” in the U.S.). Some of them specialized in woodworking, some had glass working tools, Noisebridge even had a kitchen in the middle of it! The experiences were so inspiring that I decided to figure how to compress my essential electronics equipment into a toolchain that I am capable of carrying and wander the world, teaching as I go. That way I can sow the seeds of inspiration and technology anywhere without worrying about contacting “Spaces” before hand or double checking to make sure the “Space” has the proper tools and materials for the class I intend to teach. (One time at the Artisan’s Asylum I found myself wandering a convenience store looking to buy eyebrow tweezers for a surface mount soldering class.) Basically, I will become a mobile “Space” and my first journey has me headed back to visit my friends in Uganda.
So the real question is, what exactly does a mobile HackerSpace look like? First off, there’s the all important laptop. That’s an obvious piece of hardware but once we get past that things tend to get a little less clear cut. In this post I’ll be outlining the hardware, materials and books I’ll be taking with me on my first independent international trip to Uganda. If you’re curious about what kind of software I’m running (I tend to use Open Source or Freeware) you can check that out here.
The first hardware priority for me was figuring out how to do soldering and rework while on the road. When doing any kind of work with electronics you’re always going to need to solder something together. Anyone who’s done any soldering knows that once you’ve started soldering, eventually you’ll want to de-solder something. In order to do this on the road I put together a kit around a butane soldering iron and the Heaterizer XL-3000. The soldering iron is really slick and compact. The Heaterizer, while not a full-fledged rework machine, is portable and has served me well in the past. There are some other standard tidbits like solder, flux, copper braid, forceps, etc. that I won’t go into detail about, but are pictured below. One thing you won’t find me packing is a solder sucker, or pump. I’ve found other ways to get rid of excess solder and they’ve never really impressed me.
Unfortunately, the Heaterizer requires a 115V (standard American out of the outlet electricity) power source which I am not guaranteed to find on the road. In order to deal with this eventuality I’ve got an international outlet converter from Power Gear. There are a bunch of AC power converter units on the market. I opted to go with this one because it has four different plug options- American, Australian/Asia, Africa/United Kingdom and European. (I know, I oversimplified the types of electricity and geographic locations for brevity’s sake.) I figure if I throw an American outlet strip in my bag as well I’ll have the ability to use the Heaterizer, my laptop and additional hardware just about anywhere. I work with Polymer Lithium batteries a lot so a Lithium Polymer Quick Charger gets thrown in alongside everything else. I’m also packing some solar charging technology that I’ve never really taken on the road before. Alternative energy sources are something that I find interesting in general and hope to teach classes about in the near future, so I have high hopes for that!
Next up is diagnostic tools for troubleshooting circuits and communication circuits. I’m packing some multimeters, a capacitance meter, a SD card reader, a DSO-Nano oscilloscope, a Bus Pirate for troubleshooting communication as well as some sweet multimeter tweezers for checking out SMD components. I’ve also got an AVR programmer or two and a Tiny AVR Programmer to load code onto chips.
For working on laptops and consumer electronics I’ve got a Pro Tech Toolkit from IFIXIT. Not everything is going to plug into the breadboards I’m throwing in my backpack, but if it’s got a seam in it I’ll be able to crack it open to take a look with this toolkit. I may or may not be wearing safety glasses while doing so.
Next up is my largest piece of hardware, the Othermill. I’m really excited about this one. It’s a desktop CNC router, which means that I’ll be able to do electronics production anywhere I go as well as making molds and other 3D objects. The Othermill isn’t small, but at sixteen pounds it’s well worth adding to my toolchain and, in my opinion, is what puts me over the edge from wandering technologist to Mobile HackerSpace. I’ll also be packing replacement milling tips, PCB substrate (basically copper plates for making electronics) and some digital calipers for taking measurements more precise than my measuring tape with level. What really excites me is that I’ll be able to teach people how to design their own electronics, mill the designs, troubleshoot them and leave people with the product that they, themselves, created!
Somewhere in all of this mess I’ll be jamming some MSP432 Launchpads, Redboards (Arduino compatible microcontrollers), Rekam DR1s, IOIOs and other IC based boards. Along with teaching about all of this technology I’ll be developing curriculum for a couple sponsors as I wander.
For my own personal fun I’ve got a mic, some tiny speakers, headphones and my Lil Looper Vox Effects Pedal. This hardware is mainly for down time, although, if I teach any of my intro to programming classes which culminate in little kids making digital Djing code and circuits, I might have to bust that out, too.
Add to this list a bunch of electronic components, plus some books, and it’s looking like I’m pushing the envelope for the definition of the word “mobile.” But who knows? There might be room left over for clothes and toiletries.
Here’s a list of the hardware for the people who just want a list and could care less about the blog post-
(Consumables for the most part not listed.)
OtherMill CNC Router
Butane soldering iron
Multimeter tweezers for SMD
IfixIt Pro Tech ToolKit
Replacement drill bits/dremels for Othermill
JST crimps (who knows?)
SD card reader
Various connection converters, audio, usb, power, etc
International outlet converter
PCB substrate (most of my weight)
Various shields and microcontrollers