It was March 29, 2009 that Wired.com released an article that instantly made many technology enthusiasts, engineers, scientists and artist aware about a novel concept called “Hackerspaces”. For those who do not know, a hackerspace can be viewed as an open community lab, workbench, machine shop, workshop and/or studio where people of diverse backgrounds can come together to collaborate, share resources and knowledge necessary to build/make things that would not be possible on their own. Hackerspaces is a grass-roots movement that I believe will one day do to hardware development what open-source is doing to software development; it will provide the infrastructure necessary to crowdsource the development of technology.
The Hackerspace provides people a third space (work-space, home-space, the hackerspace) where they can invent/develop new technologies, develop new skills, master old skills, collaborate with other like minded individuals to create something that is better than what they can do on their own, and much more. The Hackerspace is Thomas Edison on steroids and I believe it will change the way technology is developed in the future. It is still a dream but imagine having access to a nanotechnology lab or a biosynthesis lab. Having the infrastructure that would give individuals access to experiment in high-tech work such as nanotechnology, biosynthesis is still somewhat far from occurring, but not a far fetched goal. Why is it not a far fetched goal? Simple, because more solutions can be generated when more people work on a problem. Sure, many of these solutions will not produce fruit, but the mere increase in solutions will make the advancement of new industries exponentially faster. Advancement of new industries is profitable; therefore, I believe that sponsorship of Hackerspaces will be looked at as a profitable investment for leading companies and institutions.
The term “open-source” and “crowdsourcing” is huge now a days. Right now these terms generally refer to work that is done virtually for software applications. These terms do not generally refer to crowdsourced hardware development. I believe that hackerspaces will one day play a role in making crowdsourcing of hardware a reality.
In recent history, software development has gone through leaps and bounds in capability because of the low cost required for an individual to start developing software. This low cost has provided individuals the ability to create dot com start-ups such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Countless other individuals have contributed to the industry in various different ways as well. Today, we are at a pivot point where microprocessor technology and software technology is developed enough that it is becoming extremely inexpensive to develop automated systems that integrate the computer user with the physical world (i.e. robots, home automation,etc). The development and implementation of this technology is no longer required to be completed in institutions that have ungodly amounts of money to do the research and development. Instead, motivated individuals will be able to enter the market cheaply by joining a hackerspace, and using the group’s infrastructure to develop new inventions and hardware technology. I believe, that lowering the entry point to developing this technology will allow the robotics industry and other hardware technology to have an explosion in development in the not too distant future.
It doesn’t stop there…
A few groups across the world have already started working on the technology to make it possible for every household to have a small manufacturing plants, in much the same way many houses today have small printing presses in their homes (aka printers). The most notable of these groups are the makers of the RepRap and the Makerbot. The RepRap is a rapid-prototyper with the long-term goal of eventually developing a RepRap iteration that can fully replicate itself.
The Makerbot is also a Rapid-Prototyper, which was derived from the technology that was used to create the RepRap. The Makerbot was developed at the NYC Resistor (one of the original Hackerspaces in the United States). The goal behind the Makerbot is to create a rapid-prototyper that is affordable and easy to use by everyone.
As this technology develops and becomes main stream it will eventually be possible for one day to allow most homes to have a small manufacturing plant, that is metaphorically equivalent to the printer and the printing press.
When this technology develops I believe that Hackerspaces will evolve to give members even more capability than what is currently readily possible, because the concept behind Hackerspaces is to provide infrastructure necessary to work on projects that couldn’t easily be worked on with the personal resources of one individual.
How can Hackerspaces help NASA (aka Space Exploration)?…
In order for space exploration to prosper and become cost-effective robotic technology will need to be created and adapted to develop infrastructure that is necessary for human space exploration and industrial exploration. Concepts like those behind the RepRap, will be required to be further developed so that it is possible to automatically manufacture goods as needed in space. The RepRap technology in part has driven the conception of a previous future technology I proposed in “Future Tech: Spider-bots dial Home”. I imagine developing Spider-bots that can manufacture themselves, manufacture other things and can also be used for surveillance and exploration. Now if the technology required to do space exploration is developed in open-source/Creative Commons type methodologies, then groups of people will be able to work together in Hackerspaces, Universities and Industry to propel innovations forward that are created at NASA making space exploration cheaper.
How can Hackerspaces help Industry?…
The idea that the greatest innovation occurs outside the walls of an institution was made famous and profitable by Proctor and Gamble. By working synergistically with the crowd, industry will be able to maximize innovation that exists outside their walls. This partnership will profit both the individuals with the innovative ideas and the companies that take the idea from conception to market, or hack the concept into a different use that the original innovator never even thought of. Helping develop hackerspaces and the tools necessary for crowdsourcing hardware development gives industry a source of innovation at the fraction of the cost of in-house innovation (it is a win-win).
Further, Hackerspaces provide a place for employees to further develop their technical skills, or the outlet to develop new technical skills. The skills that can be developed at Hackerspaces, with the community, will likely be much more readily applicable to their daily work than knowledge gained by going to the university. Hackerspaces, won’t ever replace the university, but they provide a hands-on learning experience that extends the experience gained from the university.
Hackerspaces are relatively new and their reach modest. Perhaps my claims about the future of Hackerspaces are premature, but that is the potential that I see and that is why I am so passionate about helping make hackerspaces work. It will be fun to see the dream of Thomas Edison on steroids come to fruition.
Hackerspaces around the world need motivated members and donations to make the dream possible. If you want to help or join, I encourage you to look up a hackerspace near you at (http://hackerspaces.org/wiki/List_of_Hacker_Spaces) to join or donate. If there isn’t a hackerspace near you, perhaps you want to start one. If so, there is a lot of information at hackerspaces.org on how to get one started. New hackerspaces are starting up quite often. If one is not available locally, make sure to go back to the list of hackerspaces to see if one is starting up near you.