Author Archives: bilal

Sensory Substitution Devices

Touch Sight – Skin as a video display
Haptic Display V 2.2

This project was inspired by the book On Intelligence. Learning about the brain’s plasticity I was curious to experiment with simple electronic devices that would augment our experience. The first one I built was a shirt that detected faces in front of you and presented the locations in your field of view to your skin. It had a grid of 100 vibrating motors and was noisy and really fun to make:

Compass Headband
Once I was told that birds have a sense for the cardinal directions. I figured I should too, so I made this hat that gave me a gigantic headache:

Colorshifting Biofeedback Glasses – Representing Stress Responses Visually


After hearing about the Iowa Gambling Task experiment in which subjects are given decks of cards and are asked to pick between them. Each choice either wins them money or loses them a certain amount depending on the value of the card. A healthy individual will begin picking the deck that offers him the highest running values after picking approximately 50 choices. But amazingly after 10 choices the individual’s galvanic skin response jumps. Here’s a Google Books link to the paper by Dr. Damásio: Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex.

It seemed likely that by getting closer insight into our emotional states we could make better decisions. So I made these glasses that tinted your peripheral vision depending on your galvanic skin response. Using a simple voltage divider circuit, an arduino, RGB LED’s, safety glasses and diffusers I was able to make glasses that related information from my subconcious and displayed it to a sense that I was very aware of… vision. Here’s a video me and a friend Anand Atreya going through some GSR tests and the goggles in action:



GEMSI works to facilitate the development of collaborative workshops in the Midde East and North Africa. GEMSI is a fiscally sponsored project by The School Factory. GEMSI’s goals are to break down the borders between ideas, people and countries. I believe that the open source philosophy is a path to egalitarian progress and can address some of our global challenges. Sharing, community and agency are core tenants at a hackerspace and we’re happy to have helped establish hackerspaces in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and Iraq.

Our strategies are three fold:
1) Connecting people within the city that are already a part of the culture. And connecting the groups that form with the international hackerspace community.
2) Demoing. We run pop-up hackerspaces and bring a variety of open source tools to get people excited about the possibilities of having a community space where they can actualize their ideas.
3) By creating content that can spread. Our biggest effort in that regard was the creation of this video we shot while helping with Lamba Labs in Beirut October 2012:

Lamba Labs: Beirut’s First Hackerspace from Gemsi on Vimeo.

This is a video describing the genesis of GEMSI and our work:

Here is a older progress report after our first trip to the Middle East:

The Two Hands Project

Two Hands Project Logo

The Two Hands Project
A documentary tour of as many Hackerspaces we could possibly see in one month. I felt that Hackerspaces were at a tipping point in the spring/summer of 2009 and I wanted to capture the movement in the beginning stages to spread the concept and fan the flames of making. Currently in post production by our good friend Jason Scott of the Textfiles!

Here was our flight plan:
Two Hands Project Flight Plan

The THP is also a hack in and of itself, it definitely brews from the same thrifty resourcefulness with an angle on how to make the most awesome project with limited resources. THP will be produced with two hands, like everything else ever made.

Here’s some edited video from handheld sources:

Collaborative Community Spaces

Community Spaces I’ve participated in the founding of:

2014 – Science Camp – Basra Iraq
2012 – Fikra Space – Baghdad Iraq
2012 – Lamba Labs – Beirut Lebanon
2011 – Cairo Hackerspace – Cario Egypt
2009 – All Hands Active – Ann Arbor, MI
2006 – The Alibi – Ann Arbor MI

All Hands Active


All Hands Active is the Hackerspace in Ann Arbor MI. AHA started as a series of brainstorming sessions in fall 2009. Initially floating from chocolate house to coffee shop we soon teamed up with DigitalOps and a beautiful flower bloomed. A flower filled with all the stuff you’d find in the corner of your garage. The concept was based on the examples of Hacker Spaces from around the country I found during The Two Hands Project. With membership growing AHA is coming to it’s own as a collaborative community space for tinkerers, makers and beautiful people in Ann Arbor.

MakeZine Visits All Hands Active

Events are hosted by members who are excited about what they know love to share! Here’s a knitting class held by Katie and Alex:

Sexify Your Life I: Yarning from Matt Mayers on Vimeo.

But what is AHA really about? Maybe this stick can help clear things up:

This is what AHA is all about :)
This is what AHA is all about 🙂

The Alibi

The Alibi full to the brim
The Alibi full to the brim

The Alibi was a privately owned space for music performances, film screenings, and art gallery showings. We started it as a way to try to gather creative people together in a creative space with the methods for production, performance and sales all located in the same building. The concept was to help sponsor creative people by creating a small local economy centered around making, sharing and selling. The space was allowed free room to grow and evolve and overtime we had people curating events of all sorts including a group which began a community garden in our backyard.

Jeffery Lewis came last April and performed at the Alibi.

Jeffery Lewis and The Alibi Crew at the Fleetwood
Jeffery Lewis and The Alibi Crew at the Fleetwood

Facebook Group
Videos of some shows
Pictures of shows
Map and pictures of location

The Alibi was a fun experiment in sustainable creative economies but after a year in operation my company ( was offered a education oriented relationship with the Neutral Zone teaching teenagers screen printing while promoting entrepreneurship and the main source of income for the Alibi moved. The Alibi is gone, but it’s successors are awesome! Yellow Barn in Ann Arbor

Bands which have performed at The Alibi:
Actual Birds
Alan Patrick Schuerman
Allan Fullerton
Annie Palmer
Charlene Kaye
Cojum Dip
Cut to Scene
Diane Cluck
Fatter Than Albert
The Fire Flies
Fred Thomas
Gary Lutz
Gunday Monday
Jae Stevens Live
Jeffrey Lewis
Legendz of the Fall
Looking For Mammoths
Lord of the Yum Yum
Matt Wixson
Mick Bassett and the Marthas
Old Big Bear
Stuck Lucky
The Ruined Frame
Tipton Lea & The Victorian Army
We Are The Union
Wesley West

Robotics Redefined

In 2009 Andrew Archer and I teamed up to make an autonomous driving robot for the manufacturing and logistics business. We built a few prototypes over the next two years and took them finally to the Promat supply chain conference.

My work at RRI included developing algorithms and designing electronics for our products. The largest of which is Francine:

A video of the Kalman Filter data gathering process from our workshop in Ann Arbor:


Maker Faire – Schenzhen
About Taoism and making.

MakerBay – Hong Kong
Making it Personal.

Re:publica – Berlin
Dont Change The World, Sing With The Universe

Doku:Tech – Kosovo
Open Source Art, Kindness & Terrorism

Foresight & Trends – Los Angeles
Digital, Accessible, Hacked. How International Makerspaces are Powering Grassroots Design.

INK Talks – Pune, India
The Hackerspace Revolution

Some talks I’d like to highlight follow:

Here’s a talk I gave at Share Beirut:

SHARE Beirut Talk: Bilal Ghalib from SHARE Conference on Vimeo.

Coming back from Iraq I had an amazing exchange and crashed the Hardware Innovation Summit:

Bilal Ghalib: Making it in the Middle East from Maker Faire on

Sharing Hackerspaces with the Rest of the World from Maker Faire on

A recent talk with the Kansas City Open Hardware Group – sorry about the bad audio:

Young me just after the Two Hands Project returning and sharing my findings with Ann Arbor:

Essays & Writing

I write to both share and influence the world I see.

This is an essay that I wrote about the DIY prosthetics work I’ve done. It also represents a sincere effort at quality writing:

The Middle East and North Africa broadly:

Researching the maker movement in China:

The Awareness Project

While working in the Iraq I started to confront car bombings regularly. In response to this I began a series of artwork to experiment with how people consume news and how they respond.

My first exploration in this was in creating an acoustical and visual representation of the top 100 car bombings in Iraq since the “End of the War”. I’d like to thank Mujtaba Zuhair, a founding member of the Baghdad hackerspace, for his help in making this video:

Each time you hear a high hat is a day, and every heavy bass drum is a car bomb attack. The background sound is an audio recording i picked up from the Iraqi street.
For a sped up version you can find it here: Soundcloud
For the code: github.

I believe that using sound was penetrating and helped people feel and care about the issue. These days while discussing with Jay Cousins MLK’s idea that injustice anywhere matter’s everywhere, I thought that kindness should too. So I designed and built a mechanical structure that would crush itself when a car bomb in Iraq went off:



You could prevent it from crushing itself by responding to car bombs you were made aware of with acts of kindness.

It used a crowd sourced twitter engine to have humans verify the attacks were both real and recent and then it would send a message to a self selected group of “kindness first responders” who would reply back with something they thought was beautiful to do. This was an attempt to fight of the despondency news makes me feel by giving us something to do in response to awful events in the world.

Here’s an example of the activity we saw on The Awareness Project’s twitter account:


The result of this robotic sculpture started me down a path to understand how we can get understanding and positive actions to be the result of journalism. I’m currently developing SeeFeelDo and Marbler as two projects to explore that.

Thanks for reading and message me on twitter if you have any questions 🙂

A video of the robot after it crushed itself to demonstrate operation: