Hackerspaces are Hard: Insurance

Do you dream of opening a hackerspace, makerspace, or co-working space? Maybe it’s in the works and you’re already scoping out locations, intoxicated by visions of all the projects that will emerge from it. Here’s a sobering thought: makerspaces are a great big pile of risk. If the doors of your ‘space are already open, perhaps you’ve come to realize that the initial insurance policy you signed doesn’t really fit the needs of your particular creative paradise. Even if it does, the protection you need will change as you acquire new toys.

So why should you even get insurance? For one thing, your landlord will probably require it. If you own the building, you should insure it to protect yourself and anyone who uses the space. Do it for the same reason you’d insure a car, your house, or your collection of vintage pinball machines: to mitigate risk. It takes a lot of hard work to open a makerspace, perform the day-to-day operations, and keep it growing and getting better. Whenever the unthinkable happens, insurance will protect your investment as well as the people who make it a great place to be.

In researching this article, I contacted several well-established makerspaces in the United States as well as most of the major insurance providers to get both sides of the story. My intent was not to make a how-to guide, but to simply explore the topic and provide a view of the process and the struggle.

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Kansas City Maker Faire: Lawn da Vinci is the Droid You’re Looking For

Summer is now in full swing, which means that mowing the lawn once a week is starting to get old. So why not build a robot do it for you? That’s what [Blake Hodgson] did, and he’s never been happier. It only took him a couple of weeks of quality time at one of the local makerspaces.

[Blake] was showing off Lawn da Vinci at this year’s Kansas City Maker Faire. He had his own booth around the corner from Hammerspace, the shop where it all came together. [Blake] started with a standard push mower from a garage sale and designed a frame around it using OnShape. The frame is made from angle iron, so it’s strong enough that he can ride on the thing. To each his own, we say. The wheels and motors came from a mobility scooter and match the beefiness of the frame. These are powered by two 12v car batteries wired in series. He drives it around his yard with an R/C airplane controller.

lawnmower gutsLawn da Vinci’s brainpower comes from two Arduino Pro Minis and a Raspberry Pi. One Arduino controls the motors and the R/C signal from the remoteThe other runs some extra kill switches that keep the Lawn da Vinci out of trouble.

So what’s the Raspi for? Right now, it’s for streaming video from the webcam attached to a mast on the frame back to his phone. [Blake] says he has had some latency issues with the webcam, so there could be a pair of drone racing goggles in his future. He also plans to add a GPS logger and to automate part of the mowing.

Now, about those kill switches: there are several of them. You probably can’t have too many of these on a remote control spinning suburban death machine. Lawn da Vinci will stop grazing if it goes out of range of the remote or if the remote is turned off. [Blake] also wired up a dedicated kill switch to a button on the remote and a fourth one on a separate key fob.

The Lawn da Vinci is one of many example projects that [Blake] uses to showcase the possibilities of KC Proto, a company he started to help local businesses realize their ideas by offering design solutions and assistance with prototyping. Between mowings, [Blake] puts the batteries on a trickle charger. If you make your own robot lawn mower, you might consider building a gas and solar hybrid.

Kansas City Maker Faire: Pi-Plates

As soon as he spied the Jolly Wrencher on my shirt, [Jerry Wasinger] beckoned me toward his booth at Kansas City Maker Faire. Honestly, though, I was already drawn in. [Jerry] had set up some interactive displays that demonstrate the virtues of his Pi-Plates—Raspberry Pi expansion boards that follow the HAT spec and are compatible with all flavors of Pi without following the HAT spec. Why not? Because it doesn’t allow for stacking the boards.

[Jerry] has developed three types of Pi-Plates to date. There’s a relay controller with seven slots, a data acquisition and controller combo board, and a motor controller that can handle two steppers or up to four DC motors. The main image shows the data acquisition board controlling a fan and some lights while it gathers distance sensor data and takes the temperature of the Faire.

The best part about these boards is that you can stack them and use up to eight of any one type. For the motor controller, that’s 16 steppers or 32 DC motors. But wait, there’s more: you can still stack up to eight each of the other two kinds of boards and put them in any order you want. That means you could run all those motors and simultaneously control several voltages or gather a lot of data points with a single Pi.

The Pi-Plates are available from [Jerry]’s site, both singly and in kits that include an acrylic base plate, a proto plate, and all the hardware and standoffs needed to stack everything together.

Denver Mini Maker Faire Roundup

I had a great time at Denver’s 3rd annual Mini Maker Faire, which was held inside the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The official theme this year was “Building the Future” and looking back, I can tell you that they pulled the theme off well. There was a strong turnout in two categories that are crucial to building the future: the growth that comes from education at all ages and the physical places where learning becomes immersive.

The Really Fun Stuff

poison arrow[Casey] from Caustic Creations were showing off Poison Arrow just in time for season 2 of the BattleBots reboot. Poison Arrow is 250-lb. drum spinner that destroys things at 9,000 RPM. Here’s a nice introductory video shot by their sponsor, Arrow Electronics. [Casey] told me that Poison Arrow will be on the June 30th episode, so set your DVR.

Who knew that Colorado had so many maker- and hackerspaces? Colorado Makerhub, that’s who. They provide a portal to everything maker-related in Colorado, and they were in attendance along with most of the ‘spaces within a 50-mile radius of the city. Denver’s own Denhac brought a huge multiplayer rig that they had built for Comic Con last year. It runs Artemis, a spaceship bridge simulator game that divides up the tasks necessary for successful intergalactic travel. Here’s a video of Denhac member [Radio Shack] describing the game and giving a tour of one of the consoles. The group landed a space in one of the darker areas of the museum, which made the blinkenlights irresistible, especially to boys of a certain age range.

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Denver Mini Maker Faire: Fun With Pinball

[Mark Gibson] probably has nothing against silicon. He just knows that a lot that can be done with simple switches, relays, and solenoids and wants to share that knowledge with the world. This was made abundantly clear to me during repeat visits to his expansive booth at Denver Mini Maker Faire last weekend.

In the sunlight-filled atrium of the Museum of Nature and Science, [Mark] sat behind several long tables covered with his creations made from mid-century pinball machines. There are about two dozen pieces in his interactive exhibit, which made its debut at the first-ever Northern Colorado Maker Faire in 2013. [Mark] was motivated to build these boards because he wanted to get people interested in the way things work through interaction and discovery of pinball mechanisms.

fun with pinball thumbMost of the pieces he has built are single units and simple systems from pinball machines—flippers, chime units, targets, bumpers, and so on—that he affixed to wooden boards so that people can explore them without breaking anything. All of the units are operated using large and inviting push buttons that have been screwed down tight. Each of the systems also has a display card with an engineering drawing of the mechanism and a short explanation of how it works.

[Mark] also brought some of the original games he has created by combining several systems from different machines, like a horse derby and a baseball game. Both of these were built with education in mind; all of the guts including the original fabric-wrapped wires are prominently displayed. The derby game wasn’t working, but I managed to load the bases and get a grand slam in the baseball game. Probably couldn’t do that again in a million summers.

fun with pinball baseball game
Take me out to the Maker Faire! Click to embiggen.

About five years ago, we covered [Mark]’s build of an atomic clock from pinball machine parts. It’s about time we featured his work again. We have shared a lot of pinball-related builds over the years from the immersive to the gigantic to the dankest of the dank.

The Almost Useful Machine

[Alex] is no stranger to making machines of negligible utility. A few years ago he made the Almost Useless Machine, a solar-powered system that cuts through a 20mm dowel rod while you wait (and wait, and wait). Enamored by the internet’s bevy of powered hacksaws, he sought to build a sturdier version that’s a little more useful. Approximately five months of free time later, he had the Almost Useful Machine.

It runs on a wiper motor and a recycled power supply from a notebook computer. [Alex] rolled his own board for controlling the motor with an ATtiny25. The circuit turns potentiometer movement into PWM, which controls the motor through a MOSFET. After the cut is finished, an endstop microswitch  immediately cuts the motor.

Every bit of the chassis is aluminum that [Alex] machined by hand. Don’t have that kind of setup? How about a powered hacksaw with a 3D-printed linkage? Make the jump to see it in action, and stick around for the two-part time-lapse build video.

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Rainbow Cats Announce Engagement

[ANTALIFE] is going to tie the knot sometime in 2017. Instead of sending out paper announcements or just updating his Facebook status, he wanted to give their family members something lasting and memorable, like a small trinket with a pair of light-up cats.

This project is pretty simple in theory. A pair of RGB LEDs cycle through the colors of the rainbow with the help of an ATtiny25 and resistors carefully chosen for each LED. But there are several challenges at play here. [ANTALIFE] wanted to design something quite small that would last at least a day on a single CR2032 coin cell. This project was his first foray into SMD/SMT design and construction. We think that this warrants its own congratulations, especially since it looks as though he made at least a dozen of these things.

[ANTALIFE] made things much easier for himself with the purchase of a cheap hot air rework station and used a chip clip to program the ‘tiny. The cats are a design from Thingiverse, which he modified to turn them into bride and groom. Watch a whole line of them glow after the break. We sincerely hope that a larger version of these cats end up on top of the wedding cake.

For anyone with an undying love blinkenlights and impending nuptials, don’t forget the light-up invitations, wedding attire, and centerpieces.

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