Visit to Solid State Depot, Boulder Colorado

I was in Boulder this week and while there I thought I’d check out Solid State Depot, the local Boulder hackerspace (http://boulderhackerspace.com/)… Tuesday is their weekly open house meeting night. It was awesome!

Outside the entrance

This is the entrance, the colored lights flash and cycle, I knew I was in the right place before the Uber driver found a place to park.  The Uber driver’s name was Sam, he earned his masters degree in the arts and started a fine art collaboration and printing company in 2015 which sounded pretty cool.  He didn’t know what a hackerspace was so I explained and invited him to come inside with me to check it out.  We got a tour and while there he got tips where to find laser cutters he can use in town.  Incidentally, while in high school, Sam lived in Glendale Heights, IL, the same Chicago suburb my wife is from.  I thought “wow, small world” but I had no idea… I’ll get back to that later.

Entrance/reception area

This is the entrance area.  It seems like every maker/hackerspace has a coin op cabinet at some point, I think this one may be powered by the Raspberry Pi I spied in the marquis.  They also have free stuff and we all seem to get the same 20″ box fans from the same place.  I felt right at home.  They have a big doocracy poster hanging in the lobby too (not pictured).


The next few pictures are of the main area. The woodshop is off to the right, the CNC area is in back, and the electronics lab and test room are smaller rooms off the entry area.  Ted, in the lower right in the blue sweater, seated in front of the PBR greeted me.  I introduced myself as being from Chicago and a member of Workshop 88 and he showed me around.  He was really nice, I got the feeling they take turns meeting people and giving tours, just like us, which worked well.  Ted told me that a membership costs $65 and gives you the familiar 24 hour full access to the space, equipment, and materials within reason.

They have a large crowd of regulars with deep knowledge of many topics.  Seated high on the right in the green jacket is Sebastian (“Seb”), a contributor/maintainer of Linux CNC.  Paul the left of him in the picture (mostly obscured by Mike M.) is a former NVIDIA employee who wrote the timer ladder for the Linux drivers, he is an expert in GPUs.  On the other side of Seb is Ben in the blue jacket, his recently departed grandfather worked for Tektronics.  Ben had a nice oscilloscope for sale and wanted to offer it to the club at a discount before posting it online which was really nice of him.


They have weekly club meetings at 8:00pm on Tuesdays during the open house.  They open with a call to the meeting and everyone sets aside what they are doing and gathers in the main area.  Alex, this year’s president is starting the meeting in the center of the picture in the black sweater.  Alex briefly mentioned club business which included donations, classes, finances, the need for 6″ duct for the CNC machine, etc.  Brandon, in the red sweatshirt, reported the results of a recent survey: the favorite part of the club is the social aspect, the least liked aspect was that some of the tools are broken.

The last thing they do in the meeting is have everyone introduce themselves, share their interests, and update what they are currently working on.  There were several asks and offers for assistance, it was very cool.  When each person was done they said “Bam” and pointed at the next one  – I don’t  know if that always happens or if it was organic but that type of self organization was really effective.  The meetings are similar to but not as formal as the monthly Chibots meetings if you are familiar with those.

Also pictured above on the left is Ben, or as he jokingly asked to be called “That Bastard Ben”.  On the right with the beard and plaid shirt is John W. who is repairing is repairing and/or enhancing the electric scooter behind him on the right.



John M. is on the left, Nick in the orange shirt works on FPGAs’ and is really sharp.

There was one more really interesting guy I didn’t get a picture of but he suggested members check out the recent hacking/spying wikileaks CIA articles because they point out security flaws and espionage techniques used on common devices anyone could be using.  I want to be clear, he was not suggesting that anyone in the club use the exploits, it was more from the point of view of the security threat.  That was the first I had heard of that news, a day before I heard about it in the news.  He’s a really smart low level guy whose current project was analyzing the voltage/current profile of each pin of a microcontroller to try and find a way to glitch/reboot it into a programmable mode.

Oh, and Andrew…
This is Andrew and yours truly.  Andrew is making an autonomous vehicle with his one spinning single beam LiDAR system and computer vision using an onboard NVIDIA Pascal GPU (~10W GPU running deep nets!!!).  He actually works for the same company I work for, HERE, optimizing deep neural networks for visual segmentation, recognition, and other perception related tasks… and he recognized me as one of the people who interviewed him on the phone several months ago.   He studied Geology (I think) at Wheaton College before getting a degree in Physics.  MAN, SMALL WORLD!  His project is so cool, he had a case full of different single board computers including RPI, BBB, Arduino, ST based Arduino’s and more. We talked work and projects for an hour.  He introduced me to Sebastian and some of the others mentioned above.

The wood shop:

The wood shop was large enough to accommodate big projects, and was well equipped: Combo table saw/routing table, jointer, planer, compound miter saws, lathe, band saw, drill press, scroll saws, sander, and much more. That’s a ShopBot in the background with dust collection.  I also noted that the shop was swept and vacuumed.

The robotics and CNC area:



They are getting their big CNC working with Machine Kit and GeckoDrive G540.  It’s funny because Workshop 88 is going through the same process using Machine Kit and Gecko drives for our mill.  Tom in the red sweater asked what a “Charge Pump” is and I happened to know 🙂


Brandon is about to CNC machine a new aluminum part on the Taig behind him needed by the larger mill to the left.  It’s also using MachineKit, and note the electronics for the mill in the box mounted to the wall behind Plexiglas.  I didn’t find out what the actual part he was machining was.

Robot

This robot was there, I don’t know what if anything it was for but it was cool.  I particularly like the design with most of the motors low in the base and belt drive up and through the joints.


This is their Chinese Laser cutter / engraver.  It was not working at the time I visited.


Those 4 3D printers were donated by LulzBot.  I swear at least some, if not all look to me to be Prusa Mendel or Mendel Max.  Each needed some repair.

This is the electronics lab:
Here are a couple more 3D printers, that look to be in good working order.
Mike S. on the left wearing the hat, Mike W, and Alex working on something, probably Mike W.’s scooter.  In the meeting, Mike S. shared his current project: electronic control of the exhaust fan on his fireplace which he can now remotely monitor and graph the temperature of his fireplace and the running of his fireplace exhaust fan on his phone.


I love a good whiteboard!


Another room with test equipment.


It’s hard to see but the Boy Scout motto: “Leave No Trace” was once written in red marker on the well used bench.
Another friendly clean up reminder.

All in all a great club full of interesting talented people working on fascinating projects.  It was nice to see they face some of the same organizational challenges, and I like they way they incorporate a regular club meeting with introductions and project updates into their open house night.

I’m really glad I made the time to visit and when I go back to Boulder you can bet that I’ll  aim to be there on a Tuesday night to go to another meeting at Solid State Depot.

D. Scott Williamson
Compulsively Creative