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Dalton brought an idea to Craig Berscheidt, a member and de facto shop teacher here: Substitute an electric valve. Oh, and hook it up to an old arcade game's push button.
"This is how most projects start here," Dalton says. "Somebody says something, then somebody one-ups them. Everyone makes these weird little enhancements."
"And 15 minutes later, you have the best idea ever," Berscheidt adds.
The two men opened the fountain's guts and decided to add more than a valve. They rigged a series of peristaltic pumps (donated by a member eager to clear out his garage), to be powered by stepper motors. The motors, controlled by a test board that Berscheidt borrowed from another project, would regulate the flow through the valve.
"We just accumulate other people's junk until it's time to build," Berscheidt says. "The crux of an idea is always in somebody's basement."
The fountain not only works now but also dispenses two flavors at the toggle of a switch. One is Brawndo (water infused with drops of the energy-boost product MiO Energy Green Thunder) — a reference to the ubiquitous Gatorade-like sports drink that provides electrolytes to the citizens of the future in Mike Judge's Idiocracy. The other fluid is what the Hammerspace natives call "toilet water": standard municipal H2O.
"Our UPS guy came in and asked if this was a new kind of drink," Dalton says. "He looked at the two options and told us he didn't want to drink toilet water. Then he picked Brawndo, went back for a second drink and told us it was pretty good. I'd call that a success."
Pranking the delivery guy makes a good anecdote, but Dalton knows that Hammerspace won't succeed without serious and sustained interaction with nonhacking Kansas City.
"He sold his Volkswagen to fund the garage shop that built the computer that we walk around with in our pockets," Dalton says of Apple founder Steve Jobs. "But what if he didn't have that Volkswagen? Or if he lived in Brookside and didn't have a garage to build in?" He sees his hacker space as a way for cash-strapped entrepreneurs to use sweat equity as they try to turn an idea into a physical object.
Boozer agrees with Dalton, and both men believe that the trend of outsourcing product development is likely to reverse itself in the near future. They aren't alone. Last month, the White House announced that the federal government would contribute $30 million toward the $70 million National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio. The new public-private partnership centers on using 3-D printing for large-scale manufacturing. It's meant to be the first of 15 similar innovation centers around the country.
"For now, it's cheaper to manufacture things in China. But in a decade, formerly outsourced products and manufacturing are going to come back onshore," Boozer says.
As 3-D printing democratizes manufacturing, inventors can scale their products to demand. But for that to happen, Dalton still needs more people working the table saw.
"We're not just a bunch of tools," Dalton says. "We're the crazy things we build."