CreatorSpace is on the southeast side of Houston – Webster, to be specific, the same side of town the Johnson Space Center, and the big museum where they just opened the static display of the fake Shuttle Independence atop a real 747 Shuttle Carrier. If you’re inclined to brave the traffic on the Gulf Freeway to rubberneck at all the NASA or just want to work around a fun crew of talented creators and engineers, swing by and pay a visit one of these Tuesdays!
With a signed waiver, the short tour winds through the rest of the three-chambered slice of business park, pointing out the cool tools, almost all of which is in flux! The vinyl cutter is finally getting a dedicated console computer, the Laser is getting upgraded soon, and there’s more than a couple 3D Printers in various stages of development, but the sturdiest-looking one is set aside behind today’s big project, the CNC mill.
This is a CNC with some history to it. It’s a donation, originally built from an old 90s kit – it’s not even running on steppers, it’s servo-based. The whole controller has long since become obsolete [the previous console bore the Packard Bell brand]. Swirls of cabling underneath have been rerouted to a more modern system running LinuxCNC. It’s been a long haul, but the beast is finally moving on two out of three axes. Both ends of each axis have switched endstops, which is getting to be less common with light-duty mills these days. What’s really different is that both switches on the same axis trigger the same fault input on the mill. On your average RAMPS board, the one-size-fits-all of modern computer stepper control, if you even bothered with double-endstops, you’d have six switches running to six different inputs.
The other current development is a new Raspberry Pi-based security camera, running off a custom Pi distribution, which uses the RPi add-on camera and a web interface to provide all your checkboxes for a monitoring solution – motion detect, recordings, and remote access. The framerate is pretty good, even for streaming over wireless. It’s just a board-level hack at this point, not so much as a board and zipties holding all the moving bits of the project into a unified mass. When everything’s finally tapped down, it’ll probably be connected by Ethernet to the space’s network switch, so bandwidth or interference won’t be any worry.
They’re not afraid to jury-rig; Cutting the wall open isn’t an option, so a window-mount air-conditioner sits in the middle of the space, the back side of it connected to the outside air with a tape-and-polyfoam duct. It’s nifty, but it also doesn’t quite work right. Another hack: one member’s radio-controlled hex-rover, locally re-engineered from online plans. As long as you’re messing around, why not do six wheels instead of four? Oh, and did I mention they’re building a blimp? The resident quadcopter expert has a two-fan gondola ready to go!
Many of the machines and tooling in the space are on loan from a particular member, typically mentioned by sharpie on masking tape. CS also uses a handy colour-coded system of electrical tape X-marks, that lets you know whether a particular thing is in good repair and whether it’s free to use or not. The same codes of tape apply to stored items, and disused machinery. It’s intuitive; you can guess what a red X would mean if you suddenly found it on your giant killbot from last year. The next thing on the way out is a big ceramic kiln, they could only power two or the three heater coils off the current power system anyway.
Not to be overlooked, the space does a little bit of educational outreach, they wipe and rejigger old, donated computers and put them to use again at schools and other worthy recipients. At least one teacher has paid a visit to get some ideas on integrating the digital manufacturing revolution into the curriculum.
The first and last thing you see walking in is the big front desk, also host to the weekly membership meetings (latest news: the space’s favourite colour is blue!), and conveniently near the beer fridge! The big story today, stretching late into the night, is one member’s vacation to the farthest reaches of the Al-Can Highway, tracking ice roads up in an all-wheel-drive Subaru, wild! The CreatorSpace banner has officially been waved everywhere from the Gulf to the Arctic. Next stop: OuterSpace?