When 30-year-old James Hobson participates in engineering conferences, he usually shows a video or two.
He has more than 150 from which to choose. He might showcase his latest project, a half-size clone of Tesla’s Cyber Truck. Or perhaps he will screen the video that made him famous: It features an electromagnetic bracer that can retrieve a Captain America shield when it's flying through the air. Or he might show something like the 60-lb. Reinhardt’s Rocket Hammer.
Hobson, a mechanical engineer better known as The Hacksmith, has fashioned a YouTube career from building real-world versions of video game and comic book gadgets—Make It Real videos. In addition to Captain America’s shield, which can also smash through concrete, he has built a replica of the power loader from the movie Aliens, an oversized crossbow from Half Life that shoots rebar arrows, and a working replica of Iron Man’s helmet. He also 3D printed a 20-kilowatt “heat saber” that operates at 3,000 degrees F.
Like every inventor, Hobson has a garage packed with tools. These range from laser cutters to 3D printers. Sometimes, they provide cosmetic packaging for his concoctions. Other times, like his metal printed 20-kilowatt heat saber, they are highly functional.
Hobson has always followed his own muse. He grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, about 70 miles outside of Toronto. Even in high school, his creativity showed. As a junior in 2007, he and his best friend (and current business partner), Ian Hillier, entered the Skills Canada Robotics competition. Together, they built a remote controlled robot that won the national competition.
He then went on to study at Conestoga College, which offered 3,000 hours of hands-on applied learning and practical projects. At the time, it was one of the first colleges (as opposed to universities) to offer a four-year course in engineering.
After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, Hobson took “the first job that would have me.” That was at Athena Systems, a small firm that made innovative injection molding machines. “The owner had a few industry veterans to serve as mentors but everyone else was a fresh graduate out of school,” Hobson recalled. “The median age there was about 25.
“We worked in a Platinum LEED-Certified building, had a personal chef, and used geothermal energy to keep the parking lot from freezing in winter. On my third day at work, I was hopping on a private jet to visit a manufacturer in Cincinnati because our boss believed in face-to-face business.”
Hobson was busy, the type of busy engineers get when trying to establish themselves in a career. But he also had some side gigs that were keeping him up at night. Actually, this was nothing new. Hobson had been a YouTube star since he was 16.
He began posting videos on YouTube shortly after it launched. His first videos showed him and his friends playing Parkour. The concept of The Hacksmith began to emerge in 2009, when he made a set of shiny nickel-plated metal claws for a Halloween Wolverine costume.
Then came his first viral hit, a bracer with two large electromagnets that fit over his forearm and could retrieve a replica of Captain America’s shield. Released just before the 2015 movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, it garnered millions of views.
The number of subscribers kept doubling year after year. Hobson and Hillier moved their operation, now branded Hacksmith Entertainment, into a 13,000-square-foot facility. Success has enabled Hacksmith to take on more ambitious projects. Yet Hobson is certain about one thing: He will continue to draw his ideas from fiction.
Watch the videos and Find out more about James Hobson on ASME.org.
Alan S. Brown is senior editor of Mechanical Engineering magazine.
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