Over the last few years hackerspaces have sprung up all over the U.S.  These are places where members chip in some money every month to rent a space and stock it with exotic tools and projects.  The members tend to have an eclectic mix of technical skills.  Often in any group of 5 you will find experience in writing computer programs, digital circuit design, analog circuit design, mechanical design, use of tools like CNC mills and laser cutter/etchers, art school, user interface design, musicianship, rocketry and building exotic radio equipment.  Plus a love of science fiction, comic books and techno music.  Whenever I encounter a hackerspace, I have the sense that I have found my tribe.

A local hackerspace in the Los Angeles area that is particularly active (there are a couple more around town) is called Crash Space.  I visited them a few times and joined their email list.  When I went to a meeting about a month ago, the club had just been selected to participate in the VIMBY/Scion Hackerspace Challenge.  Several hackerspaces around the country were given $3,000 each and asked to build something cool with it over the course of a couple of weeks.  Though I am not a member of Crash Space (yet, anyway), they let me be part of the team.

The project they decided to do was to put an array of ultrasonic sensors along the front of the storefront that is Crash Space.  As people walked in front of the building, they triggered the various sensors, which triggered different noise making devices, many of them consisting of a relay driving a “thwacker” that banged a bottle or flower pot.  There was even an “Easter Egg”, where if you ran back and forth the entire length of the building several times, it would start playing the Close Encounters 5-note signature tune (you know, Boo-boo-boo-bowww-boooo). 

I built a stereo audio mixer with phantom power for the project, wired up ultrasonic sensors and helped to assemble the thwackers.  You can see pictures of the unveiling here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/todbot/sets/72157624710624685/with/4938749497/

 On a personal note, if you look at the 11th picture in the series, you can see the mixer I built on the lower level, just to the right of the Memory Man.

 Anyway, the sponsors are VIMBY, a competitor to YouTube, and Scion, the car company.  A videographer filmed the entire process, and there will be a video of it at some point on the VIMBY site.  And some of that footage will make its way into a Scion car commercial after that.  Also, they will choose a winner from among the hackerspaces who competed.  We are up against the legendary NYC Resistor hackerspace (in New York City).  But all that is in the future.  For now, it was great to be part of such an interesting and (to their neighbors) unbelievably cryptic project.

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