As an engineer and as a writer for Hack a Day, I am used to seeing hardware in all kinds of states; from looking professionally done, to artfully constructed, to downright hackish. Unfortunately in today’s society of manufactured goods, most people just don’t have any experience with homemade electronics. Furthermore, because of a frenzied fear of terrorists, bombs, and IEDs, people who aren’t familiar with hacked or personally constructed hardware often assume the worst.
These assumptions can be inconvenient for some of us, when we have to explain that, “Yes, I made this myself. No, it isn’t dangerous”. The real tragedy is when fears like this are imposed onto children and students who have an interest in building something of their own. Recently there was a story about a middle school student from San Diego who built a motion detector into a bottle. He attended a technically-oriented school, and decided that he would bring in his project to show his friends. After a teacher spotted this “Suspicious looking bottle with wires coming out of it”, the device was confiscated, a bomb squad was called out, and the school was evacuated. After using a robot to X-ray and examine the bottle thoroughly the bomb squad finally declared the project safe. Instead of listening to the student from start, thousands of dollars were wasted bringing out the bomb squad and an entire day of school was interrupted because the administrators gave in to fear of something they didn’t know about. The worst part of all of this is that while the student wasn’t formally punished, the school district recommended that he should undergo counseling to correct his behavior.
This isn’t an isolated incident either. Back in 2007 an engineer who had built one of Adafruit’s MintyBoost kits was stopped in airport security because the kit “Looked like an IED”. In that case the engineer in question stood his ground, calmly explained what it was he had, and why it wasn’t dangerous. Luckily, the police that were called in were of a more rational mind, and after proving that the kit performed as promised (lighting up a USB LED lamp), told the TSA to let him go, kit and all. While this does bring up questions towards the arbitrary rules used in TSA screening, that is not the point of this story. Airline troubles have even extended to our friends over at MakerBot, who had their luggage searched on the way to CES. The important message to get across is how important it is for makers, hackers, circuit benders, and anyone else who creates or modifies something to share their projects with friends, family, and the internet.
Until people start to realize that not all electronics come from a store, stories like these will keep happening. Education is the only effective tool against fear, and without people like our readers sharing their creations and taking time to talk to people about what the hardware hacking scene is, the general population can’t be expected to know any better. This responsibility to educate is even more important for people like parents, teachers, and organizations such as the TSA and the police because of the influential nature of who they are.
I want to thank anyone who has shared their projects with us, and urge all of you to continue. Our mission here at Hack a Day is to share the amazing projects that are out there, and to help spread the word and interest of hardware and software creation and modification. This mission extends both to experts as well as people who have never seen anything like this before. The knowledge you all share with us helps us spread the word of hacking to as many people as we can get to listen.
I can’t wait to see what else you all have in store for us.