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Get a peek inside NYC Resistor and see where the maker revolution started

Kevin Lee | April 30, 2013
Papercraft lamps. Cables hanging everywhere. An overhead clock with a dot-matrix display that looks like the DRADIS from Battlestar Galactica. A vending machine that dispenses food as well as electronics. Someone inside a closet yelling, "firing the laser!" This is the mad-technologist scene you walk into when you visit NYC Resistor, one of the most well-established hackerspaces in New York City.

The NYC Resistor community also says it isn't interested in increasing its membership, as a gym would be. Instead, admission to the Resistor group is doled out on an invitation-only basis to dedicated makers who work well with the rest of the group.

"Our motto is we learn, share, and make things," said Justin. "It's really about the people who come in and are really good at [building] something but not really everything. So we really help each other, learn from each other, and then share that knowledge with other people that come to this space on our open nights and classes."

On a recent visit, I met a software motion designer named John Oquist, who was developing audio visualizations on his laptop. A few seats over, NYC Resistor Member Adam Mayar was soldering together connections on an old radio faceplate to get it back into working order. I also met two friends, Zach and Sam, who were stripping an old laptop down to its frame to replace the CMOS battery.

But the space isn't just a great resource for knowledge. Makers have access to just about any electronics tool or any more-traditional hand tool imaginable, like the ever-important hammer. The back room features a wall of shelves filled with an assortment of electronic parts picked from various random projects.

There's also a machining workshop with milling machines, a CNC (computerized numerical control) machine, table saws, and other power tools. Everyone refers to it as the only room with tools that can hurt, maim, or kill you; so understandably, this is the only area that's closed to the general public.

Big projects

Well, actually, there is something else that could potentially kill you. Across the hall from the power tools sits a huge 500-pound pipetting robot--the same sort of machine you would find in a science lab. Nick Vermeer, who has been a part of NYC Resistor for four years, commented that the real problem with it is getting it to make slow, small movements.

Apparently, when the arm gets to running at full speed, it will jump and slide across the table it sits on. Not only would it cause a small earthquake if it fell off its table, the moving head in the center does not come to a gradual stop. Instead, this motorized head crashes against the side of the machine, creating a gong-like sound.

On the next desk over, Nick showed me a much less dangerous robotic arm that used to manufacture semiconductors. Since the Resistor folks got their hands on it, they have been working on new brains to control how it moves. The project is nearly complete thanks to a makeshift Linux-based system that consists of a six-axis motor driver connected through a BeagleBone board that can control the arm in real time.

 

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