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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.

"I like to make stuff that's physical because I work with software all day," Nick said, explaining his passion for making. "It's just really satisfying--that feeling of 'I had something I wanted to do and now I made it.'"

There's nothing that hasn't been tinkered with in this hackerspace. Even the shop's metal smelting kiln has been upgraded with an electronic PID controller. Normally, a kiln comes equipped with a metal rod that expands as it heats up, which prods a switch to turn off the heat. Nick explained how the Resistor team is "testing brass, and a lot of the stuff they are doing needs a [temperature] ramp."

"[Y]ou don't just care about what temperature it is," Nick continues, "but also about different temperature plateaus that you hit and how long you stay there."

I also met a man by the name of Juy who is working on indoor farms. These massive three-foot-tall drums rotate plants around a central lighting column. Juy, who hails from France, says the system is designed to work without pesticides, natural sunlight, or even soil to create the purest growing conditions for organic mushrooms, which need to grow in a highly sterile environment. The farms could also be used to grow other microgreen crops, such as onions and mustard plants.

Making makers

But hackerspaces aren't just good places to go to if you want to build something; they're great resources if you want to learn new skills. On certain nights, Resistor holds classes on how to use laser cutters and how to get started with Arduino (as you might imagine, the latter is Resistor's most popular event).

Even when no event is going on, the makers gather together to share whatever knowledge they have with each other. Nick explained how he recently used all the OpenCV programming skills he had learned from a project controlling robots using computer vision to create a visual presentation for the Brooklyn Ballet.

NYC Resistor has even attracted the attention of some small businesses. Christina Mercando came to the hackerspace for advice on a hardware problem she encountered while creating Bluetooth jewelry.

"The hardware space is becoming more popular," Christina said. "I get more nervous every day as new hardware comes out. I think that's just because things are getting smaller like new smartwatches, [rumored] Apple watches, and Google Glass."

While Christina worries her idea might be taken one day, she's also confident that the self-made electronics market is getting bigger because it's easier make stuff than it used to be, thanks in part to more accessible hardware. Meanwhile, it's easier to start smaller production runs thanks to hardware accelerator programs, as well as services like Kickstarter that can help anyone with an idea get funding.


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