Freeside Atlanta Hacking an Economic Revolution


Startup business assistance usually conjures up thoughts of intense research, defining organizational structure, and long hours of financial planning, but not often hands on prototyping. Freeside Atlanta is changing the way innovators produce their creations. With a focus on open source and Creative Commons licensing, this gang of tinkerers gets to actualize their ideas in a well equipped engineer’s playground.

SouthernAlpha dropped in on this rapidly growing group to check out this dynamic approach to product development and release.

What is Freeside?

A collective of inventors… Pioneers of open source and the Creative Commons… MakersSpace Wizards… These are all hats that the current 40 members hold at Freeside. Above everything else, this group is a non-profit tech workshop with a focus on teaching and creating original products. As stated in their Mission Statement, “Freeside Technology Spaces, a non-profit organization, strives to provide a space that inspires collaboration, creativity, teaching, and open projects for the Atlanta community.”

We visited this 6,000-square-foot facility to get some info on this captivating development community:

SA: How does the average group progress through a project? Could you describe the process?

Freeside: Basically, there places run on enthusiasm, so the first thing they do is get a big enough group of people excited about the project. The pitch is actually kind of critical because you’re going to lose momentum after that… in general whomever you get excited about the pitch is going to see the project first. There is always one person who takes the lead on the project, but we go back and forth and one up each other in the design until we get to a point that we like. From then on it’s a free for all. There is always a bottleneck at some point in the project. The one very important lesson to learn in these kinds of places is that a lot of them have worked on pieces of projects but none of them have seen project (not none but very few) have seen projects from start to finish and its a totally different thing. When you are outside of it you will look in and say ‘I would never have done that’, but when it’s you that has the decision to make, it is completely different. It hits the bottom and hits a bottleneck and people lose enthusiasm. It usually comes down to 1-2 people who have the skill set to bring it through to the end steps.

SA: Could you give me an example?

Freeside: The Off-road Wheelchair. We had a couple of structural-level issues and we needed some STIG welding because the transmissions ripped themselves out of their mounts because they were really high torque. We required some special skills to finish the project, but ended up getting it done. Then we had a fully autonomous UAV hexicopter.

It has an Aurdrino and a specialty UAV shield that has a nine-axis controller on it and emits its exact location from space. Drive controllers, a pressure sensor for altitude, an ultra-sonic fine altitude sensor and a GPS radio as well as a radio for control. So needless to say, that project hit a really tough bottleneck.

SA: How have you taken the steps to work through these inevitable “bottlenecks”?

Freeside: Its a really intense personal development. Someone has to learn to carry it through or it stops. So I came in about a year ago, and the place was just like a lot of hackerspaces are; in disarray and with a lot of half-completed projects. Something will hit a bottleneck and no one will see it through. People expect that if there’s not “the boss” here then it should be so much easier. ‘If I didn’t have the boss or the client or whatever, I would get all of this stuff done’ is the way of thinking, but in reality – projects are just difficult.

So we as the new officers and directors came in and found a couple of wins. So we got a some things done and started the ‘look, we can do this’ outlook. People got excited and there was finally more momentum there.

SA: Concerning your 5013c status…what generally comes from designing a project? Is it satisfaction, or do you ever try to see it through to marketing?

Freeside: Since it is a member-supported organization or member driven, it’s very dependent on the goals of the originators of the projects. We have a couple of projects that we want to go commercial with and the team wants to. So Freeside has an organization but never really owns any intellectual property. Freeside releases anything that an organization owns under creative commons licenses. We don’t have any mandates for the way that teams develop their projects.