Robots and virtual reality in the Arctic: Tech-focused makerspace opens in Iqaluit

Pinnguaq Makerspace opened in Iqaluit on Monday, offering residents the chance to explore technology like computers, robots, and learn about coding.

Pinnguaq Makerspace offers people of all ages a chance to explore technology

Pinnguaq Makerspace, which opened in Iqaluit on Monday, aims to be a hub for people of all ages to explore science and technology. (David Gunn/CBC)

As you enter the building that now houses Nunavut's first makerspace, visitors are immediately greeted by small, colourful robots zipping around by their feet.

Pinnguaq Makerspace is led by Nunavut-based technology non-profit Pinnguaq, which means "play" in Inuktitut. The facility is designed to be a community hub for people of all ages to explore science and technology.

"A makerspace is just a spot where, essentially, you can come and get access to technology and access to experiences that you just wouldn't have casually lying around at home," said Ryan Oliver, the executive director of Pinnguaq.

Ryan Oliver, executive director of Pinnaguaq. (David Gunn/CBC)

"We're going to have high-end technology — access to robots, access to [virtual reality] — and just make it available to the community so that things can be created."

The space will also host computer science camps, workshops, and other educational events.

Marrying technology and Inuit culture

One of the highlights of the space's grand opening on Monday was the unveiling of a new video game app that explores Inuit mythology. It was created by Pinnguaq employee Talia Metuq, who is originally from Pangnirtung, Nunavut.

In the game, players can explore an Arctic town and meet the people who live there.

"When you click on the characters, there's explanations of [an Inuit myth] and what it means," said Metuq.

Talia Metuq has created a new video game app set in the Arctic that explores Inuit mythology. (Submitted by Ryan Oliver)

Metuq had been thinking about creating this sort of product for a long time, she said. Pinnguaq helped connect her with an artist and a programmer to make her dream a reality.

Before, Metuq said, she thought she could have only done something like this while she was in Vancouver for college.

"I'm super excited," she said.

Creating the next Minecraft

Pinnguaq has been working to bring computer science and technology to communities across Nunavut for the past five years, mainly focusing on coding camps.

But Oliver is excited the organization can build something long-lasting.

"The most ideal situation in five years is that someone has had five years worth of a positive, tech-oriented spot, has gone to pursue post-secondary education, and has created the next Minecraft," he said.

"That's our low bar."

The makerspace will be open every day this week, though Pinnguaq is still in consultation with the community to determine permanent opening hours.