I3 Detroit calls itself a “hackerspace.” For those who don’t know, it’s a place for tech-minded and creative folks to get together, incubate ideas, work on projects, collaborate, and share information. It’s part of a movement that’s exploded across the country. When friends might have gotten together to work on projects someone’s garage before, a lot of groups have organized and rented community space. What happens after that is nothing short of amazing.
There, materials are reused and up-cycled to serve beyond their intended purposes. Their chemistry lab is used to etch printed circuit boards. Children’s toy cars are tweaked for Power Racing at Maker Faire. Their DIY ethos means that I3 sits smack dab in the intersection of art and technology. You don’t have to sit on one side of the fence here.
I3 might be a tight knit group, but they’re very engaged with the community. Alongside the informal teaching that goes on within the group, they also offer classes that are open to everyone. These tend to cover more basic things like learning to solder or weld, painting, general art/craft projects, running the tools machinery in the woodshop… the list goes on. “We really bounce on everything,” member Nate Warnick says. “If someone has a demand for it, there’s probably at least one person here who knows it… It comes down to what people want.” In the off chance there’s a request no one else in the collective can cover, they recruit non-members to teach classes.
So with the wide array of interests and requests at I3… they’ve accumulated an army of tools. A lot of them are too rare or expensive for someone to realistically own. But pool some hacker resources and you get a wonderland of things to make.
They have woodworking tools, metal working tools, a kiln, an electronics room, crafting supplies, a silk screen machine, a chemistry lab, IT equipment, a podcast studio, a video editing set up, a vinyl cutter… and much, much more. Right now, the laser cutter is kind of the star of their show, but the stockpile keeps growing.
Members keep their ears to the ground for companies looking to throw away or sell equipment they don’t use… and they’ve gotten some great stuff because of it. A few industrial mills sit in the back of the studio. One is jerry-rigged with a Dell monitor – which saved them the $600 it would take to buy the one the company suggested. “We try to stay scrappy and cheap when we can.” I3 president Matt Oehrlein says. “It’s the hacker way,“ Warnick jokes. Members bring in their own materials to work with, but there’s also a great scrap pile. They call the graveyard. You’ll find wood scraps, IT equipment, and other oddities in this ever-shifting pile. If anyone is in the market for a half-taken-apart piano, you can find one here.
“That’s one of the great things about us being in Detroit,” Oehrlein explains. “You know, we have this great environment to pick up cheap equipment and an opportunity to repurpose them to do creative projects. Detroit is a great place to be doing this kind of stuff.”
It’s access to equipment, but it’s also access to people and niche expertise. “I don’t hear a lot of people talking about the fact that when the jobs go away, people stay here and the talent stays here” says Nathaniel Bezanzo, co-founding member. “When someone does something they enjoy 40 hours a week for years and years then loses their job, they don’t lose their ambition.”
So I3 is filled with projects that are purely hobbies, but it’s also a place where people refine their professional skills… and sometimes learn new ones. People share tech job leads over the mailing list. With a core group of members, like-minded but with so many different interests, it’s a great place to network.
I3 Detroit has gotten to know and garnered inspiration from other hacker spaces around the country. Bezanzo spent a few months down at the HacDC space in Washington DC when it was first getting started. It was part of the early wave of hackspaces, so was so thrilled that he spent a month there couch surfing and helping them set up. “As if I wasn’t already on board with the idea,” he recalls. “This just completely cemented it in my mind. Something like this has to happen in Detroit!”
“It’s so cool having colleagues anywhere you go.” He continues, “I was traveling for work down in Dallas and went into their hackerspace and instantly felt like I was home again. As a stranger, northerner in Texas, I was definitely the out-of-town kid, but when I walked in it was the same people, the same piles of parts around, the same projects. It was a really cool feeling… Like I was instantly part of the family.”
Sold yet? If you want to see this place for yourself, I3’s Halloween party is this Saturday, the 29th. They’ll be making ice cream from liquid nitrogen… and if that isn’t reason enough to stop by, note also that it’s free, there will be food and drinks, and you’ll get a grand tour of their space and the crazy equipment and projects inside. Can’t make it? Don’t worry. They’ll have other upcoming events and classes.
Just looking to stop by? You can see if they’re open for guests in real time. They switch their Twitter bot on, and their open sign is broadcasted on twitter and the right hand corner of their website. Just mosey on in from there.