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
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…