Local tinkerers win $10,000 from Ford

Categories: Nerdery
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Photo courtesy of TC Maker
Jon Atkinson shows off the novelty check of the TC Maker team's winnings.
Local DIY organization Twin Cities Maker recently won $10,000 in a contest sponsored by Ford Motor Company and maker bible MAKE Magazine. Called the Ultimate Maker Vehicle Challenge, the contest invited 10 teams of makers to redesign the Ford Transit Connect commercial vehicle into the ultimate maker's ride.

The TC Maker team consisted of project leader Jon Atkinson, a board member with the group. Backing him up were organization president Becca Steffen, as well as Riley Harrison and Michael Freiert. Their design, the Hackmobile, features a mobile maker facility with a fold-down work surface and fabrication shop, the idea being to bring the maker experience on the road to fairs and other outdoor gatherings.

A couple of the team members have backgrounds in architecture, and the project reflects this: The Transit Connect is packed full of equipment, carefully sized and organized via 3D-modelling tool SketchUp.

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Photo courtesy of TC Maker
A rendering of the Hackmobile displaying its pull-out work surfaces.

"The idea for the fold-down storage came from watching an old movie, years ago, that had a Murphy bed," Atkinson says. "The legs of the bed swung down as the bed was lowered, and I thought, 'Why couldn't those legs be bookshelves?' This seemed the perfect opportunity to use it, since one of the main problems was having adequate storage and having adequate work area."

The Hackmobile faced nine other teams, each with a unique take on the Transit Connect. One team on the East Coast, mindful of Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, focused on providing maker-centric disaster recovery services like helping with repairs and 3D-printing spare parts. Artist Jimmy DiResta's Hunter Gatherer concept provides tool storage for his junk-harvesting trips around New York City. His design won the runner-up prize of $2,500.

The contest encouraged folks to vote online for their favorites. The Hackmobile stayed in third or fourth place throughout most of the voting period before a last-minute get-out-the-vote campaign made TC Maker the victor. (It's unclear if Ford will ever build the winning design.)

Now that the group has won the prize, the decision needs to be made on how to spend it. "I'm lobbying hard for a trailer to haul stuff to events," Harrison says. He builds replica medieval siege engines and demonstrates them at local events like the North Star Roller Girls.

"I'd also like to improve our community outreach programs and get our tool lending library project going," Atkinson says. "Infrastructure improvements and new tools are also on my list, but I'd prefer to see us spread the maker word and grow the community."

The lending library mentioned by Atkinson is an idea that has been floating around the Hack Factory for some time: to create a resource of common and unusual tools that would be lent to anyone who needed them.

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Photo courtesy of TC Maker
A top-down diagram of the Hackmobile listing its features.

Team member Michael Friert saw these community outreach efforts as a reflection of the spirit of collaboration that gave them the prize. "This project is a great example of the collaboration that happens among members of Twin Cities Maker," he says. "Individually, any of us on the team could've produced a decent project. Working off of each others' strengths, we ended up with something greater that we can all be proud of."

If you want to help TC Maker decide what to do with the winnings, an informal gathering will take place at the group's workshop, the Hack Factory, this coming Wednesday, January 1, at 7 p.m.

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