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[ freespace ] Experiments in Open Hardware

Things are moving fast at [ freespace ]. The experiment is now more than half way done and each day has been bringing new ideas, actions and art. [ freespace ] is an experiment that started on the National Day of Civic Hacking. A very motivate team of community-builders, artists and researchers found a huge unoccupied space in San Francisco… and signed a $1 lease for the month of June. The space is completely free for anyone to come and participate. You can paint on it, code, garden, dance, meditate, talk, cook, chill. Basically everything you want, as long as you are being respectful of others.

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[ freespace ] is an “adhocracy“, a term coined Alvin Toffler in 1970 to describe a structureless organization that doesn’t use bureaucracy to solve problems. All decisions are taken based on basic common sense and in respect for each others. While being at the space the other day, someone turned on the sound system to high volume, an other member asked him nicely to lower it because the SF Salon Society was holding a Civic Engagement meetup upstairs. [ freespace ] is a vibrant, creative and respectful space where you feel home instantly.

Ernesto Cinquenove is filming the evolution of the experiment. Here is a tour he made on the first day with Mike Zuckerman, one of the core organizers, along with Ilana Lipsett:

An interesting handful of open hardware projects are happening in the space. Let’s look at what was going on when I visited the space.

Open Pixel Control

Open Pixel Control is a big wall of LEDs falling from the first floor which can be controlled by [ freespace ] visitors. The team is developing a simple protocol for controlling RGB lights. It means that you can display any picture or light pattern in big on the wall of [ freespace ]. Play with it. Open Pixel Control is so far a project developed just for fun. Anyone can join and contribute.

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Open Pixel Control on the back wall at [ freespace ]

Heartbeat Amplifier

On the upper floor, two big red comfortable chairs are calling for you. There are part of the Hearbeat Amplifier (HBA), an interactive art project which monitors your heart beat and amplify it into sounds and lights. The chairs have been to Burning Man since 2009 and to many other events in the Bay Area. Kyle Stewart, a very active [ freespace ] member and burner, told me that there will be six of them this year on the Playa surrounding a fire art piece that will light up when all heart beats are synchronized. Genius!

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Heartbeat Amplifier shown by Kyle Stewart

Jaki Levy and Eleas Kostis Interactive Art

Sculptor and web developer Jaki Levy took me for a tour of the interactive art sculptures he created with Eleas Kostis. Made of wood, steel and electronics, they look like futuristic pieces growing from earth.

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LEDs in one of the piece from Jaki Levy and Eleas Kostis

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Torchiere by Jaki Levy and Eleas Kostis

Louise Kahn

Right next to it, this piece has been created by Louise Kahn, who is also the lead singer of the Israeli electro band Terry Poison. She happened to be in San Francisco for a few days and left this piece in the space for everyone to enjoy. [ freespace ] is alive thanks to serendipity.

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Louise Kahn

San Francisco Yellow Bikes

A free bike rental service has opened its doors. The team repairs bikes and rent them for free. You simply has to leave a deposit and a bike is yours for 48 hours.

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Free bike rental service for a month at [ freespace ]

Learning Shelter

This is maybe the most exciting maker project happening at [ freespace ] right now! Marc Roth is an instructor at Techshop San Francisco, which is just two blocks away from [ freespace ]. His story has been greatly told by VentureBeat (Homeless to Maker: How the Maker Movement changed one man’s life). He discovered [ freespace ] and decided to tell people about a project he had in mind for a while: opening a free makerspace for teaching fabrication skills to homeless people. Marc has a mini-shop in his house equipped with CNC machines and fabrication tools. He offered to move his shop to [ freespace ]. The project is called the Learning Shelter, and it is installed right on the outdoor side of the space.

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In the backyard, community garden and mural painting. Just before installing the Learning Shelter

This is just a glimpse of the hardware projects happening at [ freespace ] during the month. There are plenty more to see and learn about. There was a Transportation Hackathon last week-end where John Clarke Mills brought an open source fuel injected car. A BurnerHack event the week-end before where participants learn how to use Arduino, among many other craft activities.

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Derek Dunfield and Jaki Levy discussing research method on the role of serendipity at [ freespace ]

Be sure to check the calendar of events. There are only a few days left and many participants want to keep it going for another month… which means that the rent would go from $1 to $25,000. A campaign on IndieGoGo is running on right now, but is still far from its goal. A big fundraising party is organized on Thursday.

See you soon,

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