First things first, let’s address a fair question: What exactly is a makerspace? No need to whip out your phone to do a surreptitious Google search — we’ll make it easy for you.
Fiona Ching, the General Manager of MakerBay, Hong Kong’s first full-scale makerspace explains:
A makerspace is simply a collaborative place where people can create things using the equipment and technology provided. Want to 3D print a trinket as a gift? Print it here. Want to customise and laser cut a phone case? Cut it here.
MakerBay makes making fun
At the moment, MakerBay stocks laser cutters, 3D printers, textiles and a plethora of traditional woodworking and power tools.
Most importantly is the collective aspect of a makerspace, which revolves around a community doing DIY, tech-centric or just-for-fun projects.
Makerbay, which plans to have its official launch next month, is located in an industrial building in the sprawling district of Yau Tong, an area in east Hong Kong. Surrounded by aggressive construction on one side (across the street, a luxury condo is being built) and mountains of tuna cans packed and awaiting shipment on the other; it’s a jolting break from the more polished sides of the city.
The location is appropriate, as the team at MakerBay want to jumpstart Hong Kong’s maker culture. Cesar Harada, one of Hong Kong’s leading innovators, makers and TED fellows, opened the space with the intention of making the world a better place using creative technology.
“People might want to know how they can make 3D prints or where they can find a manufacturer to build a prototype for a robot. That’s where we, or other members of the community can help,” says Ching, a Hong Kong native who has a background in environmental technology.
“We want people to think a bit more beyond. If I make a robot, how can it contribute to the good of society and the environment? That’s our mission,” adds Ching.
Mainland and beyond
Surprisingly (or maybe not), the concept of a makerspace is already big in China, in part catalyzed by Premiere Li Ke-qiang’s visit to a makerspace in Shenzhen earlier in 2015, after which he declared that such communities were an essential part of cultivating a thriving entrepreneurial and small business market.
Hong Kong can be seen as a natural place where makers can flourish, with its geographical proximity to manufacturing hub mainland China coupled with its economical advantages. Hong Kong’s mobile penetration of 238 per cent is among the world’s highest. The city state holds an average peak Internet connection speed of 87.7 megabits per second, with 30,000 WiFi hotspot areas.
Currently, MakerBay holds classes on how to write an open source Android app to control windtrains – and oh yes – this is a class for pre-teens. Other classes involve a build-your-own 3D printer class where over three weekends, participants can build their first 3D printer and can bring the printer they make (tools inclusive) home. The fee, printer materials inclusive, is HK $4,200 (US$540).
MakerBay will also feature small studios for startups to rent. One of the first startups to enter the space was Looking Glass which created the Cubetube, a series of 512 LED graphics that react to sound in 3D.
“At the time we were based in an industrial building in Kwun Tong, but we were kind of isolated. The rest of the Looking Glass team was also craving an environment where we could meet other startups, artists and inventors doing creative stuff. I think talented people always get the tools they need, but a (makerspace) is more about creating a community,” says Shawn Frayne, Founder of Looking Glass.
Growing community in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has recently seen a rise in co-working spaces – a move perhaps marked visibly by Swire-owned Blueprint’s foray into the landscape – and perhaps makerspaces will follow along.
Dim Sum Labs is Hong Kong’s first hackerspace* (pretty much the same thing as a makerspace, only for hackers) located in Sheung Wan, an area in western Hong Kong populated by many startups.
There’s also MakerHive, a 7,000 square feet floor area located in Kennedy Town, providing workbenches and laser cutters.
Memberships at MakerBay are flexible, with day passes available for HKD $200 (US$25), weekend passes for HKD $1,500 (US$187), monthly passes for HKD$2,500 (US$312) and also family passes.
(Note: there’s a realm of definitions like hackerspaces, techshop or fablab and more. Next time!)