A group of Western University grad students wants to bring Canada’s first mobile “makerspace” to London.
A makerspace or hackerspace is a community-operated physical space where people with common interests, often in computers, technology, science, digital art or electronic art socialize and collaborate.
Basically, it’s a collective shop where tinkerers can get together and help each other either finish existing projects or dream up new ones. Many are focused on the use and development of free software, open hardware, and alternative media.
If you have a preconceived image of these “hackers” fiendishly launching cyber-attacks on oppressive multinationals or pulling jumbo jets out of the sky with a keystroke, delete it. Makers are more concerned with creating things by re-purposing existing technology in new, innovative ways.
For example, a digital artist attaches a paintbrush to a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner and programs it to create a painting. That’s a “maker project.”
In 2012 there were an estimated 700 to 1,100 active hackerspaces around the world. The UnLondon Digital Media Association’s UnLab is one such space, but it’s tucked away in the bowels of Western’s research park.
Western grad students Kim Martin (library information sciences) and Ryan Hunt (history) want to create a more welcoming and accessible mobile space for community groups, the library and area schools to experience technology in.
So they founded DHMakerBus. The DH stands for digital humanities, an area of research, teaching, and creation concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities.
There are three mobile makerspaces in the United States. The DHMakerBus would be the first of its kind in Canada.
“We really wanted to create something that would add to the London community,” Hunt said. “So when it comes back we’re going to use the bus for a mobile education space for technology and development.”
For example, they intend to work with local school boards that have had their budgets for field trips cut to the bone.
“Many makerspaces hold classes on everything from sewing to making stained glass windows,” Martin said. “Others teach programming, welding, or woodworking classes. Our project will differ from the UnLab by the simple fact that it will be portable and adaptable.”
The idea was spawned when Hunt and Martin were looking for transportation to a July conference at the University of Nebraska, 14 hours away.
They couldn’t afford airfare and renting a vehicle for a dozen gadget-happy students would be “staggeringly expensive.”
So they looked at buying an older bus, which presented the problem of what to do with it once they returned from the conference.
They talked about it with school boards, the London Public Library and other groups and found some enthusiasm so they formally partnered with UnLondon, a non-profit, which would own the bus when it returns to the Forest City.
Right now, they are trying to raise at least $10,000 on Indiegogo in time to buy the bus, partially equip it and ramble a dozen like-minded students from southern Ontario and Michigan to the 2013 Digital Humanities conference at the University of Nebraska in mid-July.
They’ve raised about $500 so far but according to Martin, it’s not all about the Benjamins. The DHMakerBus will need a community of supporters and contributors to fill it and volunteers to keep it on the road.
Martin said they are looking for donations, cash and in-kind, so they can fill the bus with technology including computers and tablets, Kinect motion-sensing technology for 3D scanning and 3D printers capable of creating real items based on those scans and other designs.
The plan to make the bus it’s own Wi-Fi hotspot, but it won’t all be high-tech: they plan to incorporate sewing and crafting equipment and supplies, toys and traditional tools as well.
According to Martin, that’s “phase one” of the plan: get the bus, get to Nebraska and get some feedback/inspiration on what the DHMakerBus will actually look like (and maybe a donation or two) from conference attendees.
“Phase two” will be about formalizing connections with supporters in London with an eye to rolling out the bus by January 2014, according to archaeology PhD student Beth Compton
“(In) Nebraska we’ll be meeting with people from all over the world who have already built these hackerspaces,” Compton said. “When we’re there, we can ask their opinions and come back with really fresh, great ideas.”
To find out more visit www.dhmakerbus.com, follow @dhmakerbus on Twitter or check out their Facebook page. To donate, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/dhmakerbus.