“ Basically, we’re trying to make things so that we could survive after the apocalypse,” said Jason Bogal, a technology enthusiast and member of Reno’s new makerspace, Bridgewire. The group’s
5,400-square-feet warehouse in Sparks wouldn’t be a bad place to go to survive a catastrophe and rebuild the planet. There’s some beer and cider brewing in the kitchen, and there are two bathrooms, a ham radio station, and even some in-progress armor based off of the post-apocalyptic video game Fallout 3. There’s a tiny library of books and a bigger library of computer parts and hardware, not to mention the array of available equipment from vintage washing machines to an up-and-coming welding station.
Bridgewire is Northern Nevada’s first established makerspace—or hackerspace, or community workshop, depending on what you want to call it. There isn’t a huge difference between the labels.
“Hackerspace carries some negative connotations because of the word ‘hack,’” said Bogal. “But makerspace works because we’re creating.”
According to Hackerspace.org, where the members of Bridgewire met and collaborated, hackerspaces are “community-operated physical places where people can meet and work on their projects.”
While the word “hackers” evokes images of the 1995 cult film of the same name, complete with ridiculous computer lingo or attempted takedowns of the world’s technology, it really just refers to someone intrigued by the process of deconstruction and recreation. It’s not limited to gadgetry either—last week, member Patricia Hazeltine was constructing furniture covers, and Tara Davis helped Reggie Dablo with another piece of the Fallout 3 ensemble.
Essentially, makerspaces function like co-ops. Bridgewire is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit with School Factory, an organization that supports the implementation of open learning communities across the country. The $50 a month membership fee ($75 for couples) goes almost entirely toward Bridgewire’s rent, and supplies are either donated or purchased by members. Membership grants you 24-hour access to the facility.
Bridgewire is tucked away among other warehouses and storage facilities on Industrial Way, and its entry is a single door with their suite number, 20, ominously illuminated under a small light. It’s a little intimidating at first. And yet the giddy atmosphere inside is anything but.
According to Bridgewire’s board director Jim Navarro, “We’re just wreaking geeky havoc.”
Made from scratch
The makerspace arose as the idea of two different groups composed of local hobbyists, engineers and technophiles. Plans for the space were set in May, and the facility officially opened on Oct. 1. The hardest part was selling the idea to insurance agents. Luckily, the members were able to find an agent in Sparks who also happened to be a big do-it-yourselfer.
“I hate to use an overused term, but it’s a pretty grassroots thing,” said Navarro.
Jeremy Osborn, president, says the purpose of the space is “to learn and create and have a community workshop.”
“It functions as a think tank for people,” said Osborn.
Navarro agrees. “Our main goal is education. It’s an evolution of a traditional hackerspace but varies from purely electronics. People don’t need to have a background in something to be interested in learning how to do it.”
The education system is pretty organic, and the space thrives on collaborative efforts. “I guess it’s a way to crowdsource solutions,” Bogal said. “Anyone who wants to learn something can come in, and someone else will teach them.”
One of their coolest features is the MakerBot, a 3D modeling machine constructed by some of the members before they even had a space. The group fundraised for two weeks to finance it, and it took more than 10 hours to put it together.
“It was a good example of how this concept could work on a larger scale,” Bogal said.
Currently, the MakerBot is churning out whistles.
Rule makers and breakers
There aren’t a whole lot of rules for Bridgewire, which may seem daunting in a place filled with potentially dangerous equipment.
One rule is, “don’t be a dick,” said Kevin Wong, one of two chief technical officers (CTOs) at Bridgewire. “Don’t use something you don’t know how to use.”
The members function as a “do-ocracy” according to Navarro. Their motto is “those that do are right.” This means that you have the freedom to start your own projects, and make the space your own—but it also means that you have to take responsibility for yourself.
“If you suggest an idea, you’re basically volunteering to do it,” Bogal said.
For the 30 members, that hasn’t been a hard rule to follow. Somehow, tasks seem to be completed without an extensive discussion process. For instance, when a rig was needed to better feed the plastic spool into the makerbot, treasurer Daniel Johnson built a shelf for it and welded it securely to the wall within days.
“Things just get done,” said Bogal.
Because all of the members come from diverse backgrounds, there is almost always someone who knows how to do something, and there are often people there at various hours of the night.
“One really great part about being a 24-hour space is that you’re not limited by people’s schedules,” said Navarro.
Show and tell
In alignment with their mission, Bridgewire hosts regular classes that are open to the community. Past classes include beginning lockpicking, Arduino (a microcontroller software), brewing, and an electronics night for families. On Nov. 10,
“It’d be great to have more show and tell,” said Bogal.
“That’s how the organization functions,” Navarro said. “If someone doesn’t know how to do something, they can come and learn, and then they can teach others.”
Their name is a metaphor, too. A bridgewire is a resistance wire often used to trigger a detonator, such as a rocket or pyrotechnics. It’s an apt name, and the members are practically buzzing with plans and ideas. Bridgewire is a passion project for everyone involved—all officers are volunteers, and everyone works various day jobs that may or may not be related to the projects they work on at the facility.
Sometimes the concept can be a hard sell. “I’ve heard a lot of, ‘so what do you do there?’ Many just haven’t seen something like this before. There seem to be two sides—some are really excited and want to be involved, and others are a bit confused. But we haven’t heard anything negative.”