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
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…

News

Mets mascot Mr. Met target of Bill Clinton…

Mets mascot Mr. Met has told how he ended up in the crosshairs of a Secret Service sniper rifle. The man behind the Mr. Met…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

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…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

NHL

Rangers draw first blood against Flyers in Game…

Brad Richards and Derek Stepan scored power-play goals 47 seconds apart to lead the Rangers to a 4-1 win.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

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.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.