Edinburgh Hacklab Visit

Whilst in Edinburgh for a conference we took some time out to drop in on the local hacking community and compare notes. Edinburgh Hacklab have been on the go for a while now and are on the second iteration of their own space, having moved from the other side of the city centre to Summerhall. Initially like SHH&M they started out meeting once a month in space shared with other community groups.

This is a creative hub for the arts that has taken over what used to be the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. It even has its own pub called the Royal Dick in the central courtyard. We caught up with the guys just as they were preparing an installation for the last part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. This was to be a laser maze based in a surreal part of the buildings that still had the animal cages etc all in place. Just as if it was vacated yesterday. Together with the smoke to make the lasers visible it looked like it would be a memorable weekend for anyone that attended. Much of the buildings that are not as yet let are similar. Some parts have been used to great effect in the setting for horror film projects. All in all then a great setting for a Hacklab with lots of visual things going off. Exciting, creepy and surreal by turns as the venue was it wasn’t why were there.

The guys at the Hacklab were very friendly and approachable; Peter had responded quickly to my initial email and as well as inviting us down to see their space and was on hand as we arrived, making us feel very welcome. They have weekly regular meet-ups that are open to the public and are keen to see new faces. Many thanks to Peter, Al, Gandalf and all the guys there who put time aside to talk to us about their projects, constitution, history and the journey to their current state.

As we arrived, Peter was just starting an informal tour so we tagged along. Having come into Summerhall through the main entrance and into the yard you are facing the Royal Dick pub. The Hacklab itself is the ground floor to the right of the pub. The first room on the right as you come in through the door is the workshop for the sort of making that creates mess. In the picture you can see the laser cutter back left, a mini lathe immediately left and the new workbench the guys were just completing down the right hand side of the room. A lot of treasure was piled up to the left to make way for the construction work on the bench. the workbench looked great and like it is intended for some serious making.

Down the corridor and taking the last door on the left was the store room and also where the Ultimaker 3D printer lived. The Hacklab had recently upgraded to the Ultimaker, finding the space frame style printers need of constant adjustment frustrating. Peter explained that members stored their projects etc in Really Useful boxes stacked on shelves along the back wall and on the right of the door. This works reasonably well for them but leaves managing the space and keeping it turning over a challenge. There were more making tools behind the dismantled desks and other things temporarily stored here whilst the workbench construction mentioned above was ongoing.

Moving back out of the store room and across the corridor to the larger room next door to the workshop we entered into the Hacklabs commons and electronics/clean work area. This room appears to have originally been a molecular biology lab and still retains recognisable benches and fittings along with reagent shelves that separate the room into the two distinct workspaces. Al explained that they had been letting this space for a couple of years now, the room certainly showed an evolutionary accumulation of awesome projects.Visible in the picture there is a monorail around the edge of the ceiling with a lego mindstorms based robot/train parked over the electronics work area. There were also a number of cameras placed around the periphery of the ceiling. Gandalf explained that these were a spacial positioning project for a mini quad copter. On the right of the picture is a monitor and raspberry Pi combo showing activity in their freenode IRC room and on the rear wall over the electronics work-area is a large LED dot matrix sign displaying useful info about the space. On the wall to the right just out of shot on the picture was a pin board with the Hacklab shop featuring emergency Pi’s and Arduino’s as well as Hacklab souvenirs. There was a lot to see and ask about, too much to get into one visit. We can definitely recommend dropping in on the Edinburgh Hacklab if you are in the local.

For now though our time was up, we had a quick tour of some of the buildings more interesting features from it’s previous life, taking in the art and installations as we passed. Then left the guys to get on with the essential work for the upcoming weekends event. We will certainly drop in again next time we are in Edinburgh.