World’s largest ‘hackspace’ launches in London

'Drunk pilot' and ex-navy robotics expert Chris Paton prepares to launch the spaceship. Credit: Kieron Monks/Metro
“Drunk pilot” and ex-Navy robotics expert Chris Paton prepares to launch the spaceship.
Credit: Kieron Monks/Metro

Red buttons flash before me. The oxygen levels are falling sharply and smoke floods the cockpit. “WARNING! Your pilot is drunk,” the PA system announces. Moments later the craft swings out of control and we are finished.

Rather than floating in the Atlantic Ocean, we emerge into the backyard of a central London warehouse, surrounded by half-built machines and imported beer. The spaceship simulator I just crashed is one of the star attractions at the launch of London’s new hackspace, where innovation meets intoxication.

There are more than 1,000 hackspaces in the world, bringing together tech-minded people in community hubs from Iraq to Albania, and this new arrival is believed to be the largest yet with more than 700 members. The launch party hopes to draw in many more and offers a diverse menu.

Deep underground we visit the biohack lab, where genes are spliced and DNA is tested. “It will be the first completely public laboratory; you can have your meal tested for horse-meat,” says hackspace trustee Mark Steward, referring to the recent Ikea meatball scandal.

Down the corridor are metalwork labs, 3D printers and a row of drills. Doors open at the swipe of hacked London transit cards, while smart readers on the wall show internet connectivity and energy consumption. Food hacking offers ice cream cooled in liquid nitrogen – slightly thicker than normal – and experimental cocktails.

“It’s the old meaning of hacking, which is building and creating,” member and programmer Dave Ingram says. “There is very little ‘cracking’ – breaking into security systems – although we do workshops to learn how the systems work.”

The space operates as a nonprofit company, entirely owned and funded by its members, with a board of trustees for legal purposes. “It’s a cooperative, and you don’t see those in London now,” says founder Russ Garrett, who launched the first hackspace in 2009 in response to a broken chair.

Free access and equality are guiding principles – behind Rule Zero: Do not be on fire – and the hackers have realized their role in the community. Among the workshops in radio production, space exploration and lock-picking are classes for local youths who would otherwise miss out.

But expansion brings its own challenges. Members generally use the honor system’with resources and safe behavior, but as the group grows so does the risk. In a facility full of toxic chemicals, deadly blades and alcohol, new members are more likely to cause accidents. “I worry a lot more now,” says Russ.

The space has begun to attract serious commercial interest. NASA funds one startup here, while resident drone producer “Universal Air” is valued in millions of dollars, and the message board is flooded with offers.

But despite the money, there is loyalty to the hackspace spirit. “We spent all yesterday freezing kiwis with liquid nitrogen and smashing them with hammers,” says longtime member Tim Reynolds. “That’s what it’s about.”


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Memorial held for Sean Collier, MIT police officer…

More than 1,600 people gathered at MIT on Friday for a memorial service for Sean Collier, the police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the…

National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Sports

2014 Boston Marathon preview: Elite American, International runners…

2014 Boston Marathon: Elite American, International runners to watch

NBA

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams…

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams have the best shot at a championship. The Thunder, Clippers, Heat and Rockets lead the way.

NFL

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.