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Hardware Hacking

Video Tour Houston's Texas-Sized Hackerspace (Video 1 of 2) 57

That things are bigger in Texas is sometimes more than just a cliche. A few weeks ago, on the way to LinuxCon, I stopped by what is certainly the biggest hackerspace that I've ever seen; is it the biggest in the world? Whatever the answer is to that, Houston's TX/RX Labs is not just big — it's busy, and booked. Unlike some spaces we've highlighted here before (like Seattle's Metrix:CreateSpace and Brooklyn's GenSpace), TX/RX Labs has room and year-round sunshine enough to contemplate putting a multi-kilowatt solar array in the backyard. Besides an array of CNC machines, 3-D printers, and both wood- and metal-working equipment, TX/RX has workbenches available for members to rent. (These are serious workspaces, made in-house of poured concrete and welded steel tubing.) Member Steve Cameron showed me around, but TX/RX Labs is so large that we broke the tour into two parts, with the other one set to display next week.

Steve Cameron : This is TX/RX Labs which is Houston’s hackerspace.

Tim: Can we go inside and take a look?

Steve: Sure. Right away, we have a this is a 3D printer that these guys have built and designed, it is their own design, their own It is a Deltabot configuration, you can see. It has got these three arms and what we call a planchette which is the term borrowed from an Ouija board, and I think Mark made that up. On the planchette is the extruder which squirts out this plastic, layer by layer, builds up objects like this. It is like it is printing it, but you can look and see the plastic So over here we got a laser cutter, vinyl cutter in the corner, a little mill, sorry, lathe over there. So this is kind of our light fabrication area. We are in the middle of pouring concrete countertops for our electronics area. So this area, normally there is other stuff here, so it is kind of torn apart a little bit right now, but it is an active place.

Tim: It is a big place, how big is this spot?

Steve: So in this part here, there is about 7000 sq. I think, and then about 6000 out there, there is another 6000 or 7000, so total 14,000 sq. inside. There is another 6000 ft. of yard out in the back. So pretty big as hackerspaces go.

Tim: Alright. Let’s take a look at some of the other things that you’ve got here.

Steve: Alright. Sure. So over in this area, we got a kitchen back there, a kind of hangout area. These two kiosks are normally in the area that we just walked through. They have MakerBot Replicator 2 and Mendel printer and then behind you is the 3 axis CNC mill, little small metal working mill, and a 3D scanner.

Tim: Now this 3D scanner, how’s it is being handled?

Steve: So it has two cameras, and a projector. And the projector projects what is called structured light which is certain preset patterns of light and projects those on to whatever it is you are scanning. The cameras know what you are projecting and so by measuring the kind of distortion of whatever is projected, they can reconstruct the 3D shape of the object, and then produce a point cloud of the data that represents that, whatever it is that you scan.

Tim: Now, down here, we’ve got some lathes. What are those for?

Steve: Some of these are for renting out to members. But mostly this is kind of our electronics area. So all this stuff belongs to Mark, the guy who is over by the 3D printer. So it is a bunch of electronics stuff. And then in here, we have more electronics stuff. These bays are mostly rented out to members of the hackerspace. We had sort of an unexpected demand for renting out table spots and so most of our actual public space for people that aren’t renting is kind of gone - we are working on fixing that. That is what all this sort of construction is about. I don’t know what to say about all this stuff in there. We can’t see it.

Tim: Yeah, I understand that these counters here, you are making counters, that are going to be just like the

Steve: Just like these counters right here. So basic concrete.

Tim: They must weigh a ton.

Steve: They do weigh a ton. They are not walking off by themselves anywhere. And you can see the base is square steel tubing, it is welded together.

Tim: Also not walking off.

Steve: Also not walking off.

Tim: You have a library over here.

Steve: Well, a few books, a few old-fashioned books.

Tim: Now at 14,000 ft. approximately it is the end of the space, I understand that you are looking for more space as well.

Steve: Yeah, I don’t know a whole lot about what’s going on there but I think we had so much demand for space here, that we are probably going to rent out, we are talking about renting out, I’ve heard talking about, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this, there is a warehouse next door that we may or may not be interested in. One of the things that we like to do is out in the shop area, we have the metal working stuff, and then we have the wood working stuff, and it is nice to keep those apart from each other because the metal working guys don’t like sawdust in their machines.

Tim: Can we take a look back there?

Steve: Sure, absolutely.

Tim: This is a big space.

Steve: Yeah, it is a big space. So you can see, right, this is kind of the wood working area, we have table saws, we have a couple of 3 axis CNC routers, a smaller one in the back that is 2 x 2, a bigger 3 x 5 one, we are probably going to get an even bigger one, than the 3 x 5, so one big enough to put a full sheet of plywood on. And over here, we have the metal working area, so we have 3 axis CNC mills, a CNC lathe, do we have a CNC lathe?

Tim: Is this is a CNC laser again?

Steve: No, this is a manual lathe. Hopefully we have a CNC lathe. We have CNC mills though. The big machines at the back actually are not working but.

Tim: There was a voltage problem?

Steve: Yes, it is a matter of getting power to the building, we actually do have a generator in the yard that can power them, at least the big mill in the back, but we haven’t used that in a long time. So I don’t know what is going to happen with all that stuff. We may decide that if these machines are taking up too much room, or may rectify the problem, we’ll see.

Tim: For people who will watch this later, I’d like them to know that it is 105 degrees in here.

Steve: It is pretty warm, it is Houston, warm and humid. In this area we have the welding area, we have MIG welders, TIG welders, a big compressor making a lot of noise, oxyacetylene rigs, a CNC plasma cutter, band saws I don’t know my metal working tools very well.

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Tour Houston's Texas-Sized Hackerspace (Video 1 of 2)

Comments Filter:
  • Ninfa's (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Antipater ( 2053064 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @03:55PM (#45029033)
    Hey, that's like two blocks from the best Mexican food in the city, Ninfa's on Navigation. Great location choice!
  • by whargoul ( 932206 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @04:13PM (#45029265) Homepage
    The only thing worse than being in Houston is driving to Houston.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps the only thing worse than driving to Houston.. is driving in Houston.

    • by timothy ( 36799 ) Works for Slashdot

      A good call. I've lived in Texas for a chunk of my life, but not explored nearly as much as I'd like, including some of the big cities -- the odd, usually short visit is all. Driving both to (and as someone else already noted) *in* Houston is sort of an ordeal, partly for congestion, partly because of just how big the place is. I have friends with a Houston mailing address who are something like 20 miles from downtown.

      I understand it's a great city in many ways, but getting around is unfortunately a bit of

      • by Anonymous Coward

        As someone who lives in Austin, if one is commuting around the city core, I'd probably second the electric car, or at least a plug-in hybrid (Volt, Prius, Ford C-MAX, i-MiEV, etc.) The main reason is to save gas when idling and running the A/C.

        What was sad was going to Houston for a week recently, finding it had better traffic and commute times than Austin. Since Austin hasn't seen a traffic improvement since 1995 (highway 183), other than toll roads, the city is almost unlivable. Want to visit a local p

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      "Houston, we have a problem."

  • ...about hackerspaces, is that there are always a few members who are the Elite, and are somehow allowed to break the rules. In this case it appears to be "Mark", who has managed to fill an entire bay with obsolete junk, depriving others of desirable and useful bench space.
    • by darronb ( 217897 )
      Actually, there is a membership level where you can get spaces that big. Also, I believe Mark does a lot of mentoring, teaches classes, etc. There's also an upstairs section in that area you haven't seen yet with more people space. Try not to prejudge based on what you think you see in a panning video shot, eh? I've been there a couple times on the open house nights. It's a pretty neat place.
    • by Lennie ( 16154 )

      He did say Mark was renting that space. It might be a good thing for a non-profit to have some regular income.

    • fill an entire bay with obsolete junk, depriving others of desirable and useful bench space.

      I dunno about your setup, but this is kind of the status quo at the QC-colab in Davenport, IA.

      I mean, "obsolete junk" is pretty subjective. We've got the sewing machines that are working perfectly, but nobody's touched them in years. The giant robotic arm is completely busted and would need a monumental reverse engineering to get up and running, but it looks damn cool when you enter the electronics room. The pile of literal scrap PCBs below it, not so much. The kilns have massive potential, we want to start

    • I've been a regular member of the London Hackspace for a few years. And this is something that I've never seen as being a problem here.

      There have been a few issues with anarchists and activists showing up, trying to import politics and generally walk all over the rules. But firmly bouncing them from the premises till they got the message such disruption is unwelcome solved the issue each time.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In general Tx/Rx charges more money per square foot as you rent more space. This is because what is valuable to use as a non-profit is for people to be working on projects not people renting space from us. Also as when you are renting space from us it is part of the deal that if you do not use it we may take it back so other people may utilize the space for projects and or other table memberships.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Stop on by Tx/Rx Labs has an open House every friday from 7pm-11PM we are located at 205 roberts st
    just down the road from Minute Maid Park.

    • I read that 205 robots st and though "damn, how cool is that". Then I re-read it. You should talk to your mayor and have it fixed.

  • Artisan's Asylum in Somerville, MA is 40,000 square feet (this place is 14,000)

    • Yeah not the biggest, but they look like they are doing a good job and that's all that matters. Gotta love /. haters finding something to whine about (not you TwoStep, the people whining about other things). If you can't get excited about a place where geeks and people that want to make stuff can share equipment that few people can afford on their own, so they can make cool stuff, go read somewhere else.

      The Geek Group [] also has 42,000 square feet, but it appears to be a work in progress.
  • by Princeofcups ( 150855 ) <> on Thursday October 03, 2013 @05:03PM (#45029847) Homepage

    Hackerspace? It's a shop. We don't have to keep making up new words where there are perfectly good ones available.

    • Oh good! A shop.

      How about a little red Leicester? I do hope you're not out of that particular cheese.

    • Well generally a hackerspace is a bit more broad in scope.
      It's not JUST a shop, many will have smaller electronics areas, or even arts/crafts areas. When someone mentioned a "shop" they dont really think painting easels and sculpting tables.

  • stop giving money/ideas to third world states.

  • 14,000 sq ft is a lot of space, but it's certainly not the largest of the hackerspaces.

    TechShop has 6 locations, and one more opening next month, that all have 15,000+ sq feet indoors. Monthly fees are $100 to $125 for access to everything. They have newer equipment, as well as walls between the woodshop, metalshop and machine shop.

    It's great to see places like this opening all over the country.

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.