Full-time artist Darcy Whyte watches a trail of fire stemming from the tip of a laser slicing into a sheet of rubber he is using to make personalized stamps.
Whyte is at the front of a line waiting to use the Epilog Zing 30 Watt Laser Cutter. This is the most recent addition of equipment to ModLab, one of Ottawa's hacker spaces hosted at the Arts Court on Dalhousie, since 2012.
ModLab is a regular gathering spot for artists, technicians, engineers, coders and curious members of the public. It is hosted by Artengine, a company advocating the success of local technicians, every Wednesday evening from 7 to 10 p.m. The evenings offer a chance for people to use expensive equipment like the Zing30 Laser, 3D printers, soldering irons, projectors and wiring connectors that most may not otherwise have access to.
Britta Evans-Fenton, 24, the technical co-ordinator of Artengine says hacker spaces are a place to share and take in ideas.
Ottawa now offers several of these makerspaces, each of them appealing to a different demographic with its region. The downtown atmosphere welcomes an older crowd of
tech-savvy artists as where the Centrepoint branch of the Ottawa Public Library seeks to inspire more familyfriendly projects.
"It's kind of nerdy from the general public point of view," said Doug, an engineer and avid user of the space. "But it's a great opportunity to get your geek on."
ModLab is like an open house. It's free to the public of all ages in a space where people can seek or offer help with projects, share materials, and show-and-tell their venture developments.
Richard Sloan, an electrical engineer, brought in a working prototype application for mobile devices. He is developing a coding program specific to Android products for a lighting system.
Sloan says the user-friendly product, once finished, will be a home lighting system able to control light colour, shade and sensitivity from the user's phone with a simple swipe.
What sets it apart from other companies developing similar products will be the input of a motion sensor and personalized timers, he said.
As conversations spark about mechanical problems and specialized features, regular members made sure to translate their technical discussions for those who were new to the concepts.
Elgin (Skye) MacLaren is a first
time attendee looking to learn how to use Arduino, a small open-faced circuit board used to program robotic devices.
"I've got some really good leads on information," she said.
"I'm going to come back once I have some of the toys to play with and have (other members) help me
try to figure out how to put things together."
MacLaren went home holding a tiny plastic tiger, a sample from the 3D printer demonstration she observed.
Many of the people attending are interested in expanding their businesses. Whyte is designing multiple
stamps that will eventually layer and act as a portable printing press, which he hopes will save the environment from wasteful business cards. In the meantime, Whyte makes his business cards for the paper airplane company he runs from scraps of old projects Thomas Allanson, a 3D designer put his skills to use for his wife's jewellery design business, making online models for potential patrons to browse through.
"This is the one place where your brain can run free," said Allanson.
Artengine is a company comprised of a collection of artists whom organize various events in the Ottawa community, like Mini-Maker Faires and workshop nights, and manage grant funding.
Artengine is located in the Arts Court on 2 Daly Ave., a space that is home to 27 art organizations.
Ottawa Art Gallery in the Arts Court is expected to have a team together to begin planning for its $34-million transformation, expansion and re-development, in June 2014.
The anticipated new space will not have an effect on any of the program arrangements until the construction is scheduled to commence, two years from now, during which time Mod-Lab will temporarily relocate.
"The impact, as we foresee it, will be minimal," said Remco Volmer, Artengine program manager.