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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Door Iris Porthole is the Perfect Fix for Detroit Hackerspace

In order to resolve the problem of congestion at the entrance to their hackerspace, the minds at i3Detroit installed a motion-activated mechanical iris in their door’s porthole.

Grabbing the design online (which they are now hosting on their site here), the parts were laser cut out of wood, gold leaf was added for effect, and it was relatively easy to assemble. PIR sensors detect movement on both sides of the door and an FET resistor connected to an orange LED add some old-school science fiction flair. The iris is actuated by a 12V car window motor — which works just fine on the 5V power that it’s supplied with — and an Arduino filling in as a controller. Start and stop positioning required some limit switches that seem to do the trick.

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Makerspace North, from Empty Warehouse to Maker Magnet

Makerspace North is unique out of the 5 makerspaces in the Ottawa, Canada area in that it started life as an empty 10,000 square foot warehouse with adjoining office spaces and large open rooms, and has let the community fill it, resulting in it having become a major hub for makers to mix in all sorts of ways, some unexpected.

Many makerspaces are run by an organization that provides tools that groups or individuals use, along with qualification courses for select tools. Makerspace North, on the other hand, provides the space and lets the community provide the maker component. The result is a variety of large scale events from indoor drone flying and various types of maker faire style days, to craft shows, garage sales, and even concerts. Smaller meet-ups, most often open to anyone, are held by such groups as the Ottawa Robotics Club and the Ottawa Electronics Club as well as some more general ones. Courses offered by the community are also as varied.

This also means that the owners of Makerspace North don’t provide tools for people to use, but instead provide dedicated rental space. That doesn’t mean there aren’t tools — it means that Makerspace North encompasses a microcosm of various renters who fill out the task of things like tool rental. This is just one example of how the community has embraced the unique approach. Let’s take a closer look at that and a few other novelties of this system.

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How To Set Up And Run A Makerspace

A bunch of people who share a large workshop and meet on a regular basis to do projects and get some input. A place where kids can learn to build robots instead of becoming robots. A little community-driven factory, or just a lair for hackers. The world needs more of these spaces, and every hackerspace, makerspace or fab lab has its very own way of making it work. Nevertheless, when and if problems and challenges show up – they are always the same – almost stereotypically, so avoid some of the pitfalls and make use of the learnings from almost a decade of makerspacing to get it just right. Let’s take a look at just what it takes to get one of these spaces up and running well.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Waterspace, A Floating Hackerspace Lab

It’s a boat! It’s a hackerspace! It’s a DIY research platform and an art gallery! It’s Boat Lab!

[Andrew Quitmeyer] lead a project in the Philippines that was nominally charged with making an art and technology space. After a few days brainstorming, four groups formed and came up with projects as wide-ranging as a water-jet video screen and a marine biology lab. What did they have in common? They were all going to take place on a floating raft hackerspace in a beautiful body of water in Manila.

This is a really crazy meta-project, and any of the sub-projects would be worth their own blog post. Even more so is the idea itself — building a floating hackerspace is just cool. The write-up on Hackaday.io linked above is pretty comprehensive, and the “Waterspace” book talks a bit more about the overarching process. Boat Lab is a great entry into the Citizen Science phase of the Hackaday Prize 2016.

But we also love the idea of hackerspaces in non-traditional places. The Cairo Hackerspace is working on a van-based space. And now we’ve seen a boat. What other mobile hackerspace solutions are out there? We’d love to hear!

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Running a Hackerspace is Hard: Egypt Edition

It’s no secret that it’s difficult to run a hackerspace. Different personalities, different material requirements, and often constrained spaces can require continual negotiation. But if you think that having the metalworking types getting their shavings on your electronics bench is a problem, try having your entire hackerspace demolished on short notice.

The situation in Cairo is far from normal at the moment. The building that Cairo Hackerspace had recently moved to was raided, closed for two months, and then re-opened under strict surveillance in February.

All was well until a part of the building unexpectedly collapsed. Then they got a demolition order, followed by postponement, followed by armed police entering anyway and breaking stuff, followed by a further declaration of the building as safe, and now a heritage site. And all of this over a week’s time. While some of the art studios in the Townhouse were saved, the Cairo Hackerspace’s space is gone.

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The good news? Nobody got hurt in all of this, and the Cairo Hackerspace crew were able to get their gear out after the initial demolition notice. They’ve been working on a mobile hackerspace-in-a-van approach lately, so hopefully they’ll be able to keep on hacking.

So when you’re bickering over who didn’t clean up the hackspace’s coffee machine, or the proper location of your favorite soldering iron, think kindly about the Cairo crew and get back to doing what you do best — projects.

How about you? What hackerspace tales do you have? Contact us through the tips line — we’d love to hear.

Hackaday Links: March 13, 2016

Way back in 2014, Heathkit was a mystery. We knew someone was trying to revive the brand, but that was about it. Adafruit pulled out all the stops to solve this mystery and came up with nothing. The only clue to the existence of Heathkit was a random person who found a geocache in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Since then, Heathkit has released an odd AM radio kit and $150 antenna. These offerings only present more mysteries, but at least [Paul] was finally rewarded for finding the Heathkit geocache. Heathkit sent [Paul] the AM radio kit. He says it’s neat and well documented.

[David] is doing his masters thesis on, “The motivation of the maker community”. That means empirical data, and that (usually) means surveymonkey. You can take his survey on the motivations of the maker community here.

America’s best loved companies, Verizon and Makerbot, together at last.

The BeagleBone Black was launched in 2013. The BeagleBone Green – a Seeed joint – showed up last August. The BeagleBone Blue, released just a few months ago, is a collaboration between the UCSD engineering department and TI. Now there’s the BeagleBone Enhanced. Yes, they should have picked another color. Perhaps ecru. The BB Enhanced sports one Gigabyte of RAM, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB ports and two USBs via an expansion header, optional serial NOR Flash for a bootloader, optional six-axis gyro, and optional barometer.

Atmel is changing a few AVRs. There is a new die for the ATMega 44, 88, 168, and the ‘Arduino chip’, the ATMega328. Most of the changes are relatively inconsequential – slightly higher current consumption in power save mode – but one of these changes is going to trip up a lot of people. The Device ID, also known as the source of the avrdude: initialization failed, rc=-1 error, has changed on a lot of chips.

Makeit Labs in Nashua, New Hampshire has a problem. They were awarded $250,000 in tax credits to help them move and renovate. Sounds like a very good problem, right? Not so: they need to sell these tax credits before the end of the month, or they lose them. They’re looking for a few businesses in New Hampshire to buy these tax credits. From [Peter Walsh]: “Under the credit program, a typical business donating $10,000 would save $9,000 on their state and federal taxes! That $10,000 donation would cost them only $1006!” Does that make sense? No, it’s taxes, of course not. If you’re a business in New Hampshire and are looking to reduce your tax burden, this is the solution.

So I mentioned MRRF, right? You should go to MRRF. It’s next weekend.