11234 109 Ave.
Public drop-in on Tuesdays from 6 to 10 p.m.
The image that first jumps into your mind when you hear “hackerspace” is a room full of people at computers hacking software. But in Edmonton and elsewhere around the world, the stereotypes of malicious technophiles don’t fit — instead, hackerspaces are community workshops and social spaces for hobbyists to work on their own and group projects.
Edmonton’s own hackerspace is run by the Edmonton New Technology Society (ENTS), a non-profit society dedicated to providing a space for tech nerds, tinkerers and general creative types to experiment, build and create a wide variety of projects. Members, who pay monthly or annual membership fees, have access to a 3D printer, a silk screening press, a clay kiln, a soldering station and equipment for papermaking, as well as a lathe, router, mill and other woodworking equipment.
ENTS director Michael Kulpa estimates there are currently 45 active members in the local hackerspace, but that they’ve seen a couple hundred people pass through over the four years ENTS has been active. Though he warns that the first few visits can feel intimidating, he encourages people to show up with their own projects and be open to watching and working with others.
“Your first time out is probably going to be just observing,” he explains. “There is a lot to see and take in. It’s an interesting experience for most people.”
Given the size of the space and the broad scope of projects that the members take on, it’s easy to see how it could be overwhelming at first. But the space provides its members with not only the equipment they need, but also the peer support and assistance they need to complete their projects — a reality born out of the wide variety of member skill and interest, Kulpa says.
“We are really open to everybody,” he says. “We have a lot of people in IT, we have some tradesfolk, farmers, we’ve got retired people, just anyone who wants to come and work on a project.”
Some notable projects that members have taken on include restoring old arcade machines — several of which are in the lounge area — a homemade Segway, 3D printed impossible objects and many more. Though these projects have been exciting, Kulpa’s proudest hack in his time with ENTS has been the physical hackerspace itself.
“There are all sorts of big projects, we encourage everyone to do their own stuff,” he says. “But it would be our space itself because it’s all member driven. All of our developments in here are with our members — so the space we have, the table, counter space and stuff like that is developed by us, for us.”
ENTS has slowly been customizing their space since moving in last January, dividing the main floor into a lounge area, workspaces and offices. Soon they’ll be adding classrooms to the basement. A big bonus for many of their members who don’t have their own garage space is the garage out back where most of the workshop equipment is located. This space is larger than their last and Kulpa says it’s like a home away from home for the members.
The space in Edmonton is one of about two dozen of its kind in Canada, but there are many more world-wide — 13 in Berlin, Germany alone. Kulpa explains that members of hackerspaces from around the world are given “Hackerspace Passports” that allow them to visit and access hackerspaces in other cities and countries — a perfect option for geeks on the go.
“It’s great as you travel. You can go into any city that has a space and say, ‘Hey, I’m from Edmonton and I want to come check out your space,’ and you instantly have a group of 15, 25, 45 people that you can just go and hang out with right away”
For Edmontonians looking for a space to go and create all the nerdy projects they’ve been dreaming about but never had the tools or expertise to try, ENTS’ hackerspace might be just the place. And, Kulpa adds, you can make a few friends while you’re there.
“We treat it as a community workshop where people with similar interests come and work together or somebody looking to develop a skill can come,” Kulpa says.
“But it’s also a big social area. A lot of our members make friends here and kind of go on to hang out.”