Hackers and Heroes: Rise of the CCC and Hackerspaces

From its roots in phone phreaking to the crackdowns and legal precedents that drove hacking mostly underground (or into business), hacker culture in the United States has seen a lot over the last three decades. Perhaps the biggest standout is the L0pht, a visible 1990s US hackerspace that engaged in open disclosure and was, arguably, the last of the publicly influential US hacker groups.

The details of the American hacker scene were well covered in my article yesterday. It ended on a bit of a down note. The L0pht is long gone, and no other groups that I know of have matched their mix of social responsibility and public visibility. This is a shame because a lot of hacker-relevant issues are getting decided in the USA right now, and largely without our input.

Chaos Computer Club

But let’s turn away from the USA and catch up with Germany. In the early 1980s, in Germany as in America, there were many local computer clubs that were not much more than a monthly evening in a cafeteria or a science museum or (as was the case with the CCC) a newspaper office. Early computer enthusiasts traded know-how, and software, for free. At least in America, nothing was more formally arranged than was necessary to secure a meeting space: we all knew when to show up, so what more needed to be done?

Things are a little different in the German soul. Peer inside and you’ll find the “Vereinsmentalität” — a “club-mentality”. Most any hobby or sport that you can do in Germany has an associated club that you can join. Winter biathlon, bee-keeping, watercolor painting, or hacking: when Germans do fun stuff, they like to get organized and do fun stuff together.

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Toorcamp: MC Hawking Robotic Wheelchair

This is the MC Hawking robot built by the Noisebridge hackerspace in San Francisco. It’s a robotic electric wheelchair outfitted with a PC, an XBox Kinect, and an Arduino. On the software side, it uses Ubuntu and the open source ROS platform. A few folks from Noisebridge were hacking away on the robot at Toorcamp to add a robotic arm and other upgrades.

One goal of the project was to build a hardware platform that lets software hackers work on autonomous applications without having to delve in to the complexities of the hardware. Since an autonomous wheelchair could get dangerous, it clearly boasts that it does not behave by Asimov’s three laws.

An example of an autonomous application for the MC Hawking is a facial tracking. This uses the Kinect’s sensors to follow people around. The platform is now being used to develop the DORA Opensource Robot Assistant project, which hopes to use the robotic arm to grab a soda from the fridge 51 days from now.

[Jake] from Noisebridge pointed out that they are seeking people who are interested in working on the software side of the project. If you are in the Bay Area and haven’t visited Noisebridge, you need to. Check their website for lots of information on the group.

Check out a video of MC Hawking partying at Toorcamp after the break.

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Mitch Altman hosts a tour of Noisebridge

[Mitch Altman] just popped up once again (seriously, this guy is everywhere!) in a video tour of Noisebridge, and hackerspace he co-founded in San Fransisco. The space is 5200 square feet and they’ve managed to cram a lot of different uses into it.  There’s areas for computers and electronics, crafting and sewing, a dark room , a machine shop, a full kitchen, as well as classrooms and other gathering places.

He talks about what a hackerspace is and what goes on in San Fran before going off on a little tour of the hackerspace movement. His recollection pins the Chaos Communications Camp as the impetus behind an initial push for these community spaces popping up in the US. It’s a fun five-minutes to watch so check it out.

[via Boing Boing]