A Visit to The Transistor in Provo, Utah

[This article was written back in august/sept but held in abeyance until the Vimby/Scion Hackerspace Challenge show on The Transistor was released.  The video went live today so embargo is off.  The zombie car/shooter at the end is what they built for the challenge.]

I was in Salt Lake City Utah for a visit and decided to visit a hackerspace called The Transistor about an hour’s drive south in Provo.  This is one of the five spaces that competed in the Scion/Vimby Take on the Machine challenge, which had completed a couple days before we arrived.

Their public calendar shows a public Arduino night every saturday. I confirmed it would be on with Deven, the primary contact and drove down with my teenage son, an avid maker. The I-15 freeway between the cities is undergoing construction and google maps has the wrong directions, so we got a bit lost.  Fortunately, the city planners in Utah laid out most of the streets in simple cardinal directions, and numbered them starting from Main Street in each town.  Once you know if its N/S, E/W street, it makes finding a place pretty easy, at least for a geek.

Door leading to The Transistor

The group was originally founded in October 2009 as HackSLC, located in a huge warehouse in Murray, Utah.  Unfortunately the mini TechShop-style shared workshop didn’t work out, due to lack of paying members and too large a space. (hmmm lesson here for Maui Makers and other spaces.) In January 2010, HackSLC shut down and the core group moved to the attic of a light industrial building in Provo.  They got a good deal on rent (discounted by providing IT services to the primary building occupants), and went with the “Benevolent Dictator” model.  A small core group covers the rent and owns (I believe) the basic equipment.   They have a two tier membership rate – $90 for full members and $45 for starving students.  Deven, one of the leaders, said they have only a half dozen or so full members, and a few starving students (or otherwise unemployed), then there are the friends who drop in on events for the community spirit.  Since the core group covers rent, etc, they are pretty laid back about the non-paying friends.  Judging by the number of people I met there by the time we left, they are doing quite well.

Tim and Deven, two of the core members, hangin in the machine area with drill presses, saws, etc

The space itself is basically two rooms, the primary big one, and a smaller storage/project space.  The big room has a nice collection of desks and equipment at one end, and couches (social space) and work tables at the other.  Off to the side is an alcove separated by several hanging sheets of plastic (formerly signs).  The alcove serves as the dirty equipment area, with drill press, saws, welding, etc.  Its a nice little setup.

Saturday’s is The Transistor’s Public Night and normally its ‘arduino night’.   They had brought in pizza the night we visited. There were several people working on arduino and other projects.  There were also number of other people setting up for a night of DnD game play.

Here are some pictures of the space.  Below are a few more of various projects we found around the space.

Big room's electronic and other work area

Tim and Deven hangin in bench/desk area

Big Room with DnD players in lounge area

Big Room looking towards lounge area

Big room - behind tim & deven are the plastic dividers that separate the machine (dirty) space from main room

Chop, Miter saws and welding setup in machine area


There was a Harbor Freight vise bolted to one of the benches in the work shop area. Apparently it had arrived without a handle.  Being good hackers with a welder handy, they welded a socket to the shaft and – Voila – a ratcheting vise.  very nice.

Harbor freight forgot to include a handle for the vise. Hackers fixed it with a ratchet!

The Seizure Machine
An old hand cranked AC generator was hacked with a couple LEDs. Turning the handle makes the LEDs flash. The device was nicknamed “The Seizure Machine” because flashing lights sometimes bring on seizures.

The Seizure Machine - LEDs powered by hand cranked ac generator

Brian trying out the Seizure Machine on me. Cool lights but no seizures induced.

Minimalist Arduino

The space has developed its own arduino clone “the minimalist arduino kit“. Its a $7.50 kit gets you the basic electronic parts need to make an functional arduino, if you add a breadboard.  For more robust projects, you need a circuit board – and they designed and built a few in house.

Minimalist Arduino on board

Bottom of board for Minimalist Arduino kit

Zombie Car-duinos and Laser Weapons

A neat arduino based project is their Zombie-car shooting gallery.  A number of cheap RC cars were hacked up to carry an arduino with bump and other sensors and a wireless (xbee) network card.  Some barbie/ken dolls were doctored up with paint, and an IR sensor and attached to ride the cars. Next they hacked up some cheap toy guns with IR LEDs (maybe lasers?) and pulsed them to distinguish between weapons.  Remember that second room I mentioned? They setup some tables with a mini-town.  The car zombies run around the town under computer (operator?) control and competitors try to shoot them.  It wasnt running when I saw it but it looked like fun.

Carduino - RC car hax with arduino and xbee wifi

Carduino with acrylic bumbers

Zombie Bride with IR Target on her head

Several Zombies and their carduinos

Zombies riding on carduinos with laser guns to shoot em down

Shooting the Zombie Cars

Zombie Carduino hides under chair

Zombie Town


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