Makerspace Profile: Robot Garden

on December 3 | by

Each week, as we get to know our community and the broader IoT movement, we’re fortunate to connect with some remarkable individuals and organizations. In our “Makerspace Profile” series, we interview makerspace founders to learn more about the maker movement around the world.

In this profile, you’ll meet Robot Garden based in Livermore, CA.

How did Robot Garden start?

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Robot Garden started for two reasons. The San Francisco Bay Area has a rich makerspace community but we were a little East of the action with all the makerspaces about an hour drive away and we were tired of the commute. Second, we love robots and know a lot of serious robotics engineers (Andra is also managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics) who we thought could benefit from a makerspace with special facilities targeted at them. It started out simply as a conversation over beer in June of 2012 about how to do what we wanted with existing spaces but quickly turned into a decision to start something of our own.

What was the initial response to Robot Garden like?

We were lucky early on to find a partner in i-GATE,  a non profit organization working to encourage entrepreneurship and STEM workforce development in our local cities. Coincidentally, at the same time we started out, they were looking to set up a Fab Lab and an opportunity to increase educational outreach, and they had extra space. With a grant from Sandia National Laboratories to purchase some initial equipment, we opened at i-GATE in  November 2012 and have bootstrapped since then.

The city of Livermore has the the highest per-capita Ph.D.s of any city in the USA thanks to the two national labs located here and we have a lot of technically interested folks. As the world’s first robotics focused makerspace we’ve also attracted interest from robotics and automaton enthusiasts and start ups, it’s been a lot of fun but there are also a lot of challenges with running a volunteer based organization.

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What kind of equipment and resources do you provide participants?

Robot garden has a lot of the kinds of prototyping equipment you find at many makerspaces like 3D printers, a laser cutter, an electronics lab and a wood and metal shop. What is unique is our collection of robots from quadrotors to quadropeds that are available for members to experiment with and develop their own novel robotics applications.

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What does “hacking” mean to you and your community?

Hacking is such a loaded word with different meanings to different people, which is why we call ourselves a makerspace. We use the term makerspace because we think it’s more inviting, we want to be a resource for everyone to make things of all kinds, not just things that involve computers or electronics.

My definition of hacking, I can’t speak for the whole community, is not being satisfied with what you’ve been given or can buy, learning how things work, learning by taking them apart, and figuring out how to customize and improve them. You can hack everything around you from electronics to clothes to lifestyle etc.

What projects are people working on?

There is a huge and constantly changing variety. Two of the ones I’ve thought were the most exciting are a point of care cancer diagnostic device that could be used in third world countries which was developed by an i-GATE company, POC medical, using Robot Garden equipment and the underwater robotics club which is working on an ROV inexpensive enough for hobbyists to build but large enough to carry a significant scientific payload.

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What are your future plans?

Our future plans are to continue providing valuable resources for our local community. We expect to continue increasing the equipment we have available as well as the educational resources. I am especially excited to continue exploring the synergy between a makerspace and a startup incubator sharing a space. We are broadening the experience of entrepreneurship beyond two guys and a tech idea.

As we expand our collection of robotics platforms and educational materials, we will also be able to provide a completely unique environment for prototyping robotics applications.

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