There’s a green garage door in Uptown that doesn’t look like much. To enter, we had to knock on a door that lead into a space that had the feel of entering a mad scientist’s lab hidden away inside an old Pittsburgh cellar. When you actually enter HackPittsburgh, it looks like a little bit of both. HackPittsburgh is what many call a HackerSpace, which is like a playground for inventors, engineers, scientists, programmers, hobbyists, artists, roboteers, entrepreneurs, and arts and crafts enthusiasts. Don’t let the term ‘hacker’ turn you off. HackerSpaces use the term “hacking” benignly in the context of deconstructing and understanding objects and systems and re-purposing existing materials for new and innovative uses.
HackPittsburgh has provided makers at the hobbyist level and above with access to tools, as well as a community of other like minded makers since their doors opened in 2009. It’s entirely run by members and is a community-based non-profit workshop. Everyone who is part of it is giving their time because they believe in it. While we were there, we saw everything from 3D printers, tesla coils, to homemade air conditioners and got a special tour from HackPittsburgh member, Geno Soroka.
These shops enter festivals and competitions around the country to promote their work, but mostly, they’re about having fun. HackPittsburgh has a profound goofy side, as a force to be reckoned with in the Power Racing Series. Remember the toy cars you used to drive around when you were a kid? HackPittsburgh and other makeshops soup them up so that they can travel at speeds up to 20mph and compete in a number of competitions. They just recently got back from this year’s contest in Detroit, bringing four medals back with them. They did a Back To The Future theme, for which they won first place in ‘Performance’ among other categories.
Their latest project is a snack-money donation vacuum that members use to keep the fridge stocked on site. The Flight of the HackPGH’s C1 Balloon was an experiment that returned phenomenal results. It can get pretty technical, but essentially the crew strapped a webcam to huge balloon and sent it off into the great beyond. They nearly made it into orbit and got some once in a lifetime photos along the way.
When walking around the roughly 1500 square foot space, it’s impossible to predict what you’ll see next. Each maker gets their own bin on a shelf to store their projects. They are run largely by donations, so it’s a really eclectic set of bits and pieces that are constantly being put together into new, better, and more innovative items.
While Geno showed us around, he told us about the different clubs at HackPittsburgh and his favorite projects. He’s currently working on a project with the Tesla High Voltage Electronics Club, one of the four sub-groups including the Software Roundtable, UAV Club, and the Lock-Pick Club. Essentially, he’s playing with lightning. Here’s a clip of some of the work Geno does with his tesla coil:
HackPittsburgh has nights open to the public every Friday at 7PM. Check it out if you’re interested in getting involved in all the fun!