‘Hackerspace’ creates technological community for Urbana

Several times a week, a group of technophiles meet in the basement of the Independent Media Center to build networks, circuits and community in Urbana’s local “hackerspace.” There are hundreds of hackerspaces around the country, each dedicated in some way to experimenting with technology.

Urbana’s hackerspace, called Makerspace, runs several projects trying to help the Urbana community.

On Saturday, Makerspace, with the help of a local arts store called The I.D.E.A. Store, will put on the Maker Faire, a mashup of a science fair, craft fair and art show. The Maker Faire will be held in the Independent Media Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Makerspace also runs a computer help desk Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Volunteers help people in the community repair broken computers, which can consist of anything from reinstalling software to fixing the electrical mechanisms of the computer.

Brian Duggan, director and a cofounder of Makerspace, said the help desk builds the Makerspace community.

Sam Copeland, for example, started volunteering for the help desk and wound up getting more involved in Makerspace.

“I know a lot about bits and pieces,” she said. With Makerspace, “everyone has their own areas of expertise that make a big picture.”

Some of Makerspace’s big pictures could one day have tangible benefits for the greater Urbana community.

Every Thursday at 7 p.m., some members of the hackerspace get together to work on creating a mesh Wi-Fi network, which is a way of expanding network connectivity without wires. One day, Makerspace hopes to create a mesh Wi-FI network for all of Urbana.

Much of Makerspace’s focus is educational. For example, people who attended a program about circuitry learned how to solder wires together. People who seek computer troubleshooting at the help desk might also learn something about how computers work and how to fix them for themselves in the future.

Erich Heine, a Makerspace member, said hackerspaces help people learn how to repair their own technology.

Heine said people who want to build or repair electronics can get the parts they need from the hackerspace instead of the Internet.

Duggan said it is important that people learn how to fix their own technology in an increasingly technological world.

“Right now, people are controlled with technology by external parties,” Duggan said. “Hackerspaces are the movement that makes it possible for people to control their own lives with technology.”