Hackspaces on the mind

Scrap_bike I don't know why, but ever since returning from SXSW09 I've been wondering about hackspaces. As you might know, hackspaces are like a nerd collective, where there is equipment to use, friendly folks to show you how to use them, and a rich environment for play and exploration.

While writing this post, a quick search for hackspaces led me to a recent article from Wired
about folks flocking to hackspaces, so I guess I am feeling a vibe
that's going around. The article provides a good overview of hackspaces. Despite what the article says, hackspaces are not new. And hack spaces are not just focused on electronics, either.

Being a bit of a bike tinkerer, the hackspaces I think of are more like the LA Bicycle Kitchen and the Broadway Bicycle School. Back in the 80s, I was inspired by the Broadway Bicycle School, and after reading about the LA Bicycle Kitchen a few years back, toyed with the idea of starting up a similar sort of thing.

There are also ample examples of shared work spaces. My buddies at Republic Publishing hang out a lot at The Hospital in Covent Garden. Todd Bida pointed me to the Cambridge Incubation Center. But these are shared facilities for small businesses and independent workers. And, there are tons of examples of youth centers that provide a hangout-homework-chilllax atmosphere for teens (yes, scoped out a plan for one of these, as well).

Indeed, hackspaces take the shared workspace, add a dash of cooperative thinking, with a healthy dose of tools to create something special for folks to just make something in a supportive environment. Shared spaces, as described above, are usually "co-existence" places, where folks work in parallel, with little cross-fertilization (and that's OK, too). In my mind, I would like a more interactive and social environment (for example, I asked my buddies from Republic how much they interact with others from The Hospital).

With my latest urge to get back into science, I wonder if there might be a market for a, say, DIY biology hackspace. The capital costs for hacking biology are huge, what with incubators, autoclaves, shakers, pipettes, disposables, and the like. In labs I worked in, the burn rate was something like $1500 per person per month (full-time hard-core research, of course). And start-up costs usually were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But that speaks for the benefits of shared equipment that comes with a hackspace. And the rise of synthbio and DIYbio suggests that there might be a need for some sort of bio hack space. 

Of course, a whole ton of barriers crop up in my head: regulation, training, disposal, licenses, and so on. But just a matter of detail, right?

Image: mine