Baltimore Hackerspace Visit

Baltimore Hackerspace

During a recent trip to Baltimore I got to visit Baltimore Hackerspace, take a quick tour, and talk to two of their members.

Our story actually starts back in 2011, when I was passing through Baltimore and tried to connect with Baltimore Node (another hackerspace in Baltimore) and when I mentioned on their mailing list I’d be passing through town, I got an invite to stop by Baltimore Hackerspace, which at the time was called “Harford Hackerspace” and was located in one of the member’s garage. Well, I never made it to either space last year, so I thought I’d try again this year… sadly, Baltimore Node does not currently have a space due to some issues with Load of Fun, the building they are located in. (Side note: I snapped a photo of Load of Fun back in 2009, before I was even a Milwaukee Makerspace member.)

Confused yet? Good! Anyway, Mike from Baltimore Hackerspace was kind enough to meet me there on a Wednesday afternoon for a tour. We talked about Power Wheels, Make Magazine, The Red Bull Challenge, how Baltimore Hackerspace operates, how Milwaukee Makerspace operates, and general making and hacking activities.

I snapped a few photos as well… enjoy!

Baltimore Hackerspace
Baltimore Hackerspace was not easy to find! It’s in an industrial unit (which looks a little like a storage unit) with no sign on the door. I think some signage is in their future, as it’ll really help new visitors find the place.

Power Wheels
Here’s their Power Wheels car. It looks unlike any other Power Wheels car I’ve seen. Like most Power Wheels cars, it occasionally starts on fire. :)

Telepresence Zen Garden
Here’s the “Telepresence Zen Garden” they built for the 2012 RedBull Creation Competition.

Robot Game
They had a robot game thingy, which was a little like Operation, but you had to guide a wand over the wire and not touch it, or the robot freaked out.

Recycle Robot
OK, this thing was impressive, and confusing. When I first saw this robot I assumed it was some commercially available unit, but it turned it was build using mostly scrap! Mark (the guy working on it) finds interesting pieces from children’s toys, household appliances, etc. and puts it all together. And, that weird thing to the right is indeed a walker, modified to assist the robot in walking, at least until it can walk on its own, without the help of a balancing mechanism. Great project!

Baltimore Hackerspace
There was also art to be found… I don’t know if this was done by a member, but it definitely added color to the space and let you know where you were. ;)

Space Invaders
Some Space Invaders were descending down the wall… I hope they fill the whole wall with them, it would definitely look cool.

They had a small office for meetings, with a big table and chairs for hacking and what-not. The office also had this whiteboard, which may contain the secrets of the universe… or something.

MakerBot Thing-O-Matic
What’s a hackerspace without a 3D printer? Here’s their MakerBot Thing-O-Matic ready to melt some plastic.

Looks like they’ve also got some music fans (and maybe video nerds?) as members. I love the color bars!

Well, that concludes our tour of Baltimore Hackerspace… if you’re ever in Charm City, check ’em out!


Today, I stopped in at the Makerspace with the plan to work on a small project for a Halloween party this Saturday.

The plan was to take a “Roomba” robot vacuum cleaner that I got for $1.00 at a rummage sale, and covert it into the robot base for a giant spider or some other scary creature that could wander around at a Halloween party.

I started pulling screws out of the bottom to figure out how to remove the brushes and vacuum blower. It took some tinkering to figure out what I could and couldn’t remove and not cause a fault. In the end, it didn’t look like I could remove the blower motor and still have the thing run, so I simply removed the fan blades from the blower.

By that time, I was now thinking about video cameras and how easy it would be to run a 1/4-20 bolt right through the plastic. A bolt and two nuts quickly made a camera mount.

In the other room were some ping-pong balls, and I had a black sharpie. A little hot glue and Roomba-cam has some personality.

Look for Roomba-cam running around the Milwaukee Makerspace and please treat Roomba-cam nice – he is watching you and WILL upload to YouTube!

-Ben Nelson

Robotics @ UWM


We’ve got a number of robot builders at Milwaukee Makerspace, but we’re not the only robot-lovers in town… via Frankie’s blog, check out this video about Tom Consi and the robotics work he’s doing at UWM.

(We’ve seen some renewed interest in the Milwaukee Robotics Club recently, so we’ll probably start up regular meetings again in the next few months… that way everyone can show off what they’ve been working on.)

Android Blue or iOS Purple? Update on the OOMA project

The Object Of My Affection Lamp   I thought I would jump in and blog on my current progress at the Makerspace with a lamp called OOMA, or The Object Of My Affection. It’s a lamp that is shaped like a GPS Navigation pin that rotates to always points toward the one you love… as long as they allow you access to their Google Latitude account :). I am finalizing hardware designs and now moving into writing the software and how it talks to the Internet.

Initially I would have waived it off as using WiFi, or Ethernet, but work on another project (Marco) has illuminated several obstacles over multiple use cases (configuring Wi-Fi, closed networks, IP addresses); instead I think the approach will be to opt over USB (via Arduino Leonardo). I figure, if people will load up a coffee cup heater or foam missile launcher to USB, than there is no issue with port scarcity.

It’s not a lamp without light, and at some point OOMA will light up in either Android Blue, or iPhone Purple. Lighting the lamp will, however, have to relegated to a v.2 build, due to some complexity in the diffusion of light in such a cramped space. Additionally, I’d like to investigate EL panels to light it up.

Finally, I am coming up on the decision to be a DIY offering, or to design it to be marketable – do I build as a one off and just offer the blueprints to others or build an end-to-end consumer solution complete with potentially an NFC tag to tap and pair a user and their lamp.

Easy and Free 3D

Its no huge secret that learning to make something in a 3D CAD program has been a bit challenging before now. Programs such as Blender are quite powerful, but the learning curve is a bit steep and you could spend days working in tutorials before you actualy got around to making anything. Well, the world turns and the people with the big brains are slowly learning that the best way to get more people involved is to create tools that don’t require a masters in computer design to understand.

In the old days, you needed a high end workstation with advanced graphics capabilities to do this kind of work. I can remember going to my friends work place and marveling at his 386 workstation built into a desk with a pen based touch screen. These days we can do so much more, and in a web browser. The recommendations below won’t meet everyone’s needs, but it’s a great starting point to learn what works and what does not. Its also hella fun.

Back in November I bought a Printrbot during their Kickstarter campaign. Since then I have been trying out different combinations of programs and processes for generating 3D designs and slicing them for use on the printer. I had a short list of requirements for things I absolutely needed:

  • Short learning curve, nothing overly complicated. I just need to make straight 3D designs. I don’t need textures, colors or animation.
  • Free. I was looking to keep this as low cost as possible. I am a huge fan of open source solutions.
  • Ability to export STL files.

I ran through Blender, 123D, Google (now Trimble) sketchup and a few other programs. They were all quite functional, but each had some small quirks or non-intuitive interface problems and I was routinely somewhat frustrated and defeated. I kept poking around and finally stumbled upon a winning combination.

TinkerCad is a free 3d design app. It runs within your browser and has a strong preference for Chrome. All your designs are assembled with a simple tool set and saved to the web automatically. The site allows you to download your designs as STL, VRML or 2D SVG. It also allows you to imidiately submit your designs to several 3D printing services such as Shapeways and Sculpteo.

Although the tools are somewhat limited, you are able to do a surprising amount of real work. All of the tools are quite intuitive and I was able to jump in without needing to run through the tutorial. In fact, my 12 year old daughter jumped in after I was done and was designing her own things without any input from me. I’m going to be needing a lot more filament at this rate. The ruler and measurement tools are better than any other program I tried. In less than 20 minutes I was able to assemble a small robot design.

Once I had the design, I was able to easily export the STL file and immediately print one using the printrbot. I added a small raft to the back and drilled out a hole for a button. This is now going to be my new doorbell. I also added a few LEDs to the back for lighting.

Once I was done, I was really excited by the prospect of actually being able to make virtual things. I decided to see what else I could do. One dream has been to find a way to easily create cardboard sliced designs. A fairly new app from Autodesk called 123D MAKE can do just that. It’s not open source, but it is a free 100+ MB download. I was able to take the STL file I downloaded and upload it to the 123D MAKE program. From within the tool, I was able to set material thickness, slice type, output format, stage size and dozens of other options. I was then able to export EPS files containing all the pieces laid out and numbered for assembly.

I was able to take these over to the laser cutter and cut some slices from cardboard I had laying around. I assembled them per directions and wound up with this bad boy.

If you don’t have a laser cutter, you can always just print the design and cut the pieces by hand.

I think we are seeing start of a huge shift in production of one-off items. 3D printers are getting cheaper, and more importantly, printing services are able to produce items in almost any material you can imagine. As the design tools get easier and easier to use you are going to see these services become more and more prevalent. Need a replacement part? Print it yourself. Have an idea for a game, have it printed, boxed and shipped overnight. Its the definition of a disruptive technology.

Now, go make something!


Free 3D design web app