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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bring a toothbrush to the robotic invasion

They’re in homes, at workplaces.

It’s the March of the Robots, Quelab’s monthly public expo that takes place Saturday. The always-evolving hackerspace encourages ingenuity.

Quelab’s communications czar Adric Menning said that the word “robot” brings to people’s minds a narrow view of a broad invention. He said robots can be programmed for all tasks and are becoming integral parts of the world.

“We want to encourage people when they’re building their bristle bots to go wild with however they decorate them, trick them out, things like that,” Menning said.

Quelab invited guests to present robots they’ve made. Featured robots include a camera bot that users can control through a Wi-Fi connection between the bot and a cell phone, and the MakerBot, which, when given a specific code, melts plastic and prints a layer-by-layer 3-dimensional plastic object.

People can also visit a craft table where they can make bristle bots, simple robots made using toothbrush heads that can move after being attached to a simple circuit.

They then use these robots for sumo matches or races, and the team found a way to hack into Roombas to control their movement. And they can battle.

Quelab’s marketing czar Walter Duran said the two previous expos brought about 30-50 participants.

“When people hear the idea, they see the potential for a good time,” he said. “It’s such a joy to see people coming here not quite knowing what to expect and getting really creative and have a great time with it.”

Quelab has been Albuquerque’s hackerspace since 2009, and it is part of an expanding international audience. Bringing together people focused on creation and not consumption, Duran said, is a growing movement.

“It’s actually kind of a worldwide movement,” he said. “I believe there are hackerspaces in every major city in the U.S.”

Quelab Director Gabe Ortiz said the movement originated in Europe in the 1980s when hackerspaces were private and high-tech junkies constituted a special interest group. Since then, he said, the movement has grown and become more visible to the public.

Last month, Noisebridge, San Francisco’s hackerspace, put on a fashion show that tried to fool face-sensing technology. He said this is one example of what such a space can become.

“It’s not just the whole electrical engineer stuff,” Duran said. “It’s artistic; it’s whatever people want to make out of it. I think it’s hard for people to come here and not be stimulated.”

When he first thought of opening Quelab, Ortiz wanted to develop a place uninhibited by deadlines but also intellectually stimulating.
Members can use the facilities for $35 a month, and nonmembers pay $5 a session.

Quelab isn’t just an atmosphere that gets the synapses firing, Ortiz said, but a place where everyone brings something to the table.
“I think it was a need people didn’t realize they had,” he said. “As soon as a lot of us heard of the idea, we were like, ‘Oh yeah. That’s exactly what I need,’ a place to hang out with people who have these knowledge domains, skills, and just bounce ideas off of them, and figure out if what you’re doing is completely ridiculous or feasible.”
Duran said that the team’s enthusiasm for its work inspires people to pursue creative endeavors.
“I think New Mexico just has something about attracting talented people and people who are particularly passionate about what they do,” he said. “So we’re giving them the venue to participate in that, and sharing with other people is great.”