Geeks that hack machines together, for the love of building are the forgotten tech heroes. A while ago I met Justin Wang, a Renmin University grad who has since joined forces with Beijing Maker Space. The space is a co-working lab in Beijing, for tech enthusiasts to build their dream machines.
Beijing Maker Space is made
The lab was established in January this year by a mysterious hacker called Flamingo. The mission is to encourage social innovation and develop the open-source hardware ecosystem by building a physical and online community where people can learn, share and work on projects using interactive design. Like open-source software, open source hardware means people from around the world have already tried to build something and can share how they did it, so an engineer is not starting from nothing. The beauty of knowledge-sharing means people can build on and improve what somebody else has done. Justin believes that “this [sharing] will speed up innovation.”
Passion to help the hacker community
I had a chance to more recently catch up with Justin to find out more. Justin is adventurous and artistic, having back-packed through thirty countries and loves photography and making small movies. Currently he is trying to build the hacker community through Beijing Maker Space, a relatively new concept in Beijing. “It’s a place for engineers and artists to come together to make cool things.” He genuinely wants to create a world without borders where passionate engineers can learn, share, build and make money.
From students to people with full-time jobs
Based in Xuanwumen, Beijing, the lab currently houses a mixture of people. Some use it full time and others are people with normal day jobs that use the space to release their creative and engineering energy. Some come from Google and Yahoo or even Bank of China. The space also gives “students with a sharp idea, a way to realize it.” Says Justin. Since it is just starting out, the space can only fit 8-10 people.
Beijing Maker Space plans to generate money from revenue sharing the sale of toolkits and assembled products with the creators. The space is currently free for people to use. Justin says “normally for hardware, you go from idea to research to demo development to product development to product testing then commercialization, the point where you get cash inflow. But for open source hardware, we can sell the electronic boards along the way, meaning cash comes in a lot earlier in the research and development stage.” According to Justin, the parts are not expensive because they are only building a demo out of cheap material, like plastic. Once they build a reasonable prototype, they can raise investment to develop it properly.
3D printers, scanners, multi-touch tables and a computer with no screen
One of the interesting projects that they have worked on is a 3D printer that can amazingly make 3D objects. The original version came from an open source lab in America called MakerBot. Justin says “we found a local vendor to supply all the electronic parts, made a few changes and made it.” It works by feeding the software a 3D model, like a blender; then the machine will print a real physical replica of the blender. Of course the blender won’t function, but the shape will be the same. Justin also mentioned, if you need a hook to put on your wall, you can just print it. They are even trying to print a plastic human! They are also working on a 3D scanner to scan 3D objects then connect it to the 3D printer.
Another cool project is a multi-touch table that uses light sensors that react to hand gestures. A camera underneath the table recognizes the difference between fingers and no-fingers then relays the coordinates to the CPU to function like a mouse. It’s a bit like a big iPad. Justin says it’s actually not that expensive to make because all you need is glass, white paper and a projector.
Justin himself has formerly worked on a marker based augmented reality project. Basically when you hold a phone up to a paper with a black mark on it, the phone will display a text message like “Baby, I love you!” See the video to see what I mean.
Now he is working on a concept computer without a screen, but instead a micro projector. The projector will project a multi-touch screen onto a special carbon paper that can be the size of a table or a wall. When you’re done, you can even roll it up and take it home. Justin is currently working on making the paper screen work.
Beijing Maker Space is also co-operating with a hacker space in Shanghai and Guangzhou and aims to sell products from all spaces.
You can visit the hacker space at 北京西城区宣武门外大街25号富豪写字楼213室（庄胜崇光百货SOGO对面）