Hackerspace Tours: Cambridge Makespace

Part of our whirlwind UK visit took us to Cambridge, where we had the joyous opportunity to check out Cambridge Makespace. The main space was formerly part of the Institute for Manufacturing Robot Lab at Cambridge University, so it has a long heritage of supporting engineering innovation.

There was some excitement when we turned up, as a second LS6090 PRO Laser Cutter had just been delivered. As one of the most used items in the space, they needed a pair. They were situated in the largest work room which also included soldering stations, co-working areas and some materials/tools storage.

At the space we had arranged to meet [Simon Jelley] and [Mark Mellors], who we recently featured when [Simon] responded to our call for hoverboard tech in action (we’ll see more about their projects later). Luckily [Mark] is a Makespace member and gave us the grand tour.

Cambridge Makespace opened it’s doors in March 2013 using grant funding and sponsorship from IdeaSpace, Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), ARM, TTP, Microsoft Research and Cambridge Science Centre. It now boasts around 200 fee paying members who have 24/7 access to the 4000 sqft workshop and event space.

Wood & metal workshop

There is a separate machining room which has a large format CNC, Warco mill, lathe, and the usual wood working tools. Each piece of equipment in the space has a tool class and owners. Tool class red means high risk (to members or the equipment) and a member needs to be trained before use. Orange items pose moderate risk so training is optional, and green is low risk. Owners do basic maintenance and train new members. It all works out quite nicely.

The several other rooms include a large classroom/function room, a small sewing/knitting/printing & embossing room, the Cake Space (kitchen) with a large supply of tuck & pot noodle, and quite a lot of corridor which houses racks with member storage boxes.

We saw a lot of great projects from members including a see-thru Stirling engine, battle bots, a BaseBot (which will be entered in to pi-wars), and [Brian’s] naughty or nice box. Ben spent quite a lot of time playing with the Cannybot line following robots that you can play like Scaletrix using a gamepad or your smart phone.

We had also asked [Simon] and [Mark] to bring in some of the projects we had seen on their site like the Nixie ClockDiamagnetic Magnetic Levitation, and the Peggy Station Clock. However, we were really excited to see the Hoverbot in action. For it’s size, it made quite a lot of noise once it got going. They have been refining the design and we’re hoping that we might see a rideable version in the future.

13 thoughts on “Hackerspace Tours: Cambridge Makespace

    1. It’s fairly typical for the UK South.

      Hack(er)spaces operate differently so it’s not very easy to draw a comparison. I would say there’s a high minimum cost in the South due to the high cost of property though.

      London has tried to make it as affordable as possible membership basically pays for rent. Tools and consumables are funded through donations and pledges. Other spaces may roll these costs into the membership. For the London Hackspace their business rates and rent make up ~70% of the cost.

    2. I found it a bit steep to be honest. I’m a Cambridge resident, part time student, but employed with a job that offers most of the kit available here. I went down before they were fully open, and it *is* a wonderful space, full of great, talented people. If I didn’t have access to the tools I do already, I probably would take the plunge.

      Good links with the IfM, ARM, and other Cambridge tech provide for some interesting opportunities for the group. Notice a RasPi A+ already embedded in a project in the photos.

      I know what rent is like around here, and given it’s location in the city, I can’t imagine they come even close to making even on rent; it must be subsidised. The place is actually located in the old robotic production line research facility, a few doors down from my dad’s old office, within a ~1/4 mile of the city centre. That place was *awesome*, it used to be filled with this entire robotic trolley automated packaging system, I saw it loading up combo packs of a certain brand of shaving products. Spent a good bit of time watching it all in operation, fascinating.

      24/7 access is nice, and probably needed; 200 members would be a shoulder to shoulder affair in one pop!

      I hope to be more involved with the space one day, but it’s a little crowded for me at the moment! I’ve a lot of love for the space, and what’s been done with it in the time I’ve known it, and I really do hope to see more from them on here!

      1. 40/mo is steep by anyone’s standards. I wonder if they’ve considered ~15/mo “limited use” memberships. With payg additional time on top. Should be relatively easy to enforce with existing access cards, and would probably mean people like me (who wouldn’t use it very often) would happily pay 15/mo “in case”. 40/mo is in the “I’m not going to use it enough to justify’ bracket. So they’d effectively be getting 15 for nothing most months… As it stands, I’m more likely to just buy my own mill, cutter etc over a few years.

  1. Hi – just to say that the piwars robot (clear laser cut acrylic two wheeled thing) is a BaseBot – http://basebot.org – all open source hardware, you can download the templates to build your own. All the software and other information from piwars will also be up on our github repo (linked from the main site). Should hopefully make a good base for projects needing a bit of mobility :)

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