Meet SparkFun's Hackers-in-Residence!


We’re firm believers in the power of hacking and tinkering to solve real-world issues, which is why, in June, we helped sponsor a collaborative residency program between our friends at Public Knowledge and Eyebeam. The idea behind their program is to find artists, engineers, designers, curators, and creative technologists who will use some of the technology that Public Knowledge advocates for (3D-printing, open source hardware, etc.) to help draw attention to one of the issues they focus on, which range from net neutrality to copyright reform.

We want to enable people to find new ways to solve these and other issues worldwide, and we’ve been fortunate enough to meet so many smart, motivated problem-solvers in our ten-year history. We’ve wanted to combine the two and try out a similar in-house residency program here at SparkFun for a long time, and that long time has come! So here, for your viewing pleasure, are our inaugural hackers-in-residence: Tara Tiger Brown and Sean Bonner.

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Meet Tara and Sean. They are nice. They are also very smart, and are here to make technical magic for two weeks.

We chatted with them about their plans and interests yesterday when they arrived at SparkFun from Los Angeles for their two-week adventure!

Hey guys. For those who don’t know, can you give us a run-down of your background, as well as your current position and where you come from?

TTB: My interests run the gamut…which means I discover a lot of gaps and sometimes I choose to fill them. Most recently those gaps led to Represent.LA and LA Makerspace. My background is in software development, and I’ve worked in various positions at various-sized companies including Microsoft, Shazam, USC, and Born This Way Foundation.

Currently I am the Technology Director at the UC Irvine Digital Media Learning Research Hub. I’m responsible for leveraging new technologies to form robust online communities around the Hub’s research and initiatives, and leading the development of a new Interest-driven learning platform HOMAGO as part of MacArthur Foundation’s Connected Learning initiative. I’m a Forbes Woman Contributor and write about women in technology and other tech tidbits; I spend as much time as I can mentoring women that want to enter the technology industry out of college or transition from another industry. My passions include animal welfare, hacking on new ideas, traveling to distant lands, TV marathoning with my husband and adventuring with my 3.5 year old, Rips.

SB: Here is my website (in reference to talking about myself, the front page of my website is only partially a joke).

That out of the way, my current positions are:

CoFounder, Global Director - Safecast (open data environmental monitoring NPO, radiation & air quality primarily) CoFounder, Board Member - Crash Space (Los Angeles hacker space) Research Affiliate, MIT Media Lab Center for Civic Media Board Member, CicLAvia (car free street events in LA) Member of multimedia art collective project Cross My Heart Hope To Die

Before all of these things I founded/helped run a specialty coffee educational organization, a blog network, an art gallery, a design firm, a record label…

My background and interests include strong leanings towards community empowerment and DIY fabrication. With Safecast, we’ve been able to combine those things to do quantifiable good for the world, and I think the next wave of aerial devices can only push that further.

2. How and why did you get involved in SparkFun’s hacker-in-residence program?

TTB: I’ve been corresponding with SparkFun’s Director of Education, Lindsay Levkoff, for quite some time. I helped out a bit when SparkFun was visiting Los Angeles, and we have mutual interests in the education side of making through my work at the DML Hub. I’m a huge fan of SparkFun; I don’t think that I have ever visited a makerspace or hackerspace without seeing several red boxes laying around. I believe the SparkFun hacker-in-residence program is a valuable pursuit because their products are a gateway for so many people into the world of electronics, and being able to spend time with the minds that break down the barriers to getting started is an amazing opportunity for anyone that wants to prototype and increase their knowledge of consumer electronics.

My background is in software development, and I took the leap into electronics with the SparkFun Inventors Kit. From there I discovered how to use a breadboard, how to solder and that led me to wearable tech. In fact I did an Artist-in-Residence program in December 2012 at Museumsquartier in Vienna, where I prototyped a Wearable Tech project using SparkFun products.

SB: Tara roped me into it! I’m actually a long time SparkFun fan and customer. At Safecast we use a number of SparkFun products in our radiation monitoring devices, including our flagship workhorse - the bGeigie Nano - which is driven by the Arduino Fio and uses a SparkFun Open Logger to record the readings. Tara and I have been discussing our shared interest in drones and exploring the idea of hacking on some of them, so when she was approached by SparkFun about the residency it seemed like a perfect fit for us both to come and see where this idea might lead.

I’m a big fan of “in-residence” programs - hacker or otherwise. They allow a level of brainstorming and semi-agendaless thought process that can’t usually happen in a day-to day-business, and can often lead in exciting directions. In the worst case, they are simply great promotion for a company showing an interest in a community, which isn’t bad at all, and the best cases are impossible to imagine and limitless.

3. What will you be working on over the next two weeks?

TTB: Our project is to customize a quadricopter or other aerial device by outfitting it with sensors that may include video, radiation, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, altitude, radiation and various gases. The primary goals are extended flight time and to handle heavier payloads.

We chose this project for a couple of reasons: Sean’s nonprofit Safecast has been thinking about using drones for some of their environmental sensors, and both me and Sean are very interested in drones and how they can be utilized for personal use applications beyond just flying them around. We have noticed the commercial options are lacking, and we want to see how easily off-the-shelf components can be combined to build an out-of-the-box solution for people who are not strong pilots but want the capabilities that an affordable aerial vehicle can provide.

As someone who founded and runs a makerspace you would think I get to hack a lot - NOT TRUE! I am very much looking forward to these two weeks to actually hack on something in a focused way, away from distractions and in a new think-tank environment.

Thanks Sean and Tara, and welcome to SparkFun! We will be documenting their project’s progress throughout the course of their stay here, and will keep you updated on how it unfolds. This is a trial run of what will hopefully turn into a more regular program, but it also means we don’t have a lot of details nailed down or a way for other ambitious hackers to apply to our program just yet. But we’ll be hammering out more specifications as time/the success of this attempt evolves, so stay tuned!


Comments 17 comments

  • That sounds AWESOME!!! I’d love to be a resident at SparkFun like Tara and Sean!!! I’m sure their quadcopter project will be really cool!

  • Thanks for the update on this project.

  • This sounds intriguing. Only two residences for now? How are the residences selected? Project management?

    • Tara and Lindsay Levkoff (our director of education) have been acquainted for a while so it was easy to float the idea by them without much structure - we’re hoping to nail down a more concrete way of applying to and organizing the program for the future. We’ll see what we learn from this trial run and go from there; as soon as we do we’ll be asking for applicants!

  • I’m excited to see the output of the quadcopter project. I’m hoping it will involve open source plans and wind up with a design that is competitive with ArudoCopter!


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