If you can dream it, they can build it. Whether it’s a set piece from a Hollywood blockbuster movie, comic book lore, or video games, there isn’t a project Hacksmith Industries has deemed impossible to recreate.
James Hobson is the founder of the Kitchener-based engineering research and development company. They're the minds behind the wildly successful YouTube channel “The Hacksmith”, which just surpassed the 10.5 million subscriber mark.
That makes them the 16th most popular YouTube channel in Canada and the 15th most popular tech channel in the world. The channel has come a long way since Hobson used YouTube as an outlet to post his homemade parkour videos back in 2006.
Hobson was born and raised in Kitchener and graduated from Conestoga College’s engineering program in 2012. After several years of working in the tech industry and posting videos to YouTube as a side-hustle, he quit his job in 2015 and devoted all his time and energy to growing the channel.
“I’ve always loved super heroes ever since I was a kid, and that’s kind of been the driving force behind these projects,” Hobson said. “And from a business standpoint, tagging onto popular culture that is already well known has been extremely efficient in growing our channel. So that means we can hit a very mainstream audience, and there’s always something for someone on our channel.”
The first worldwide viral video spurred by The Hacksmith came in 2016 when Hobson and his team created an electromagnetic Captain America shield, which coincided with the release of Marvel's "Captain America: Civil War" film. The YouTube video blew up and surpassed 37 million views and skyrocketed their subscriber base by fivefold in one month.
Since then, the channel has doubled its subscriber base every year, to where Hacksmith Industries now employs 14 people based in their 13,000 square foot facility in Kitchener.
They’ve carved out a successful niche on YouTube where they bring fictional staples from comic books, video games and movies to life combining real-life technology and engineering expertise. Hobson said some fans refer to The Hacksmith as a Canadian version of the show “MythBusters”.
“The passion started with how far can I push the envelope with engineering, and what can I make real,” Hobson said. “I’ve managed to build up this really awesome business around it with this really unique niche where on YouTube, I can justify spending tens of thousands of dollars building prototypes of really cool things that I have no hope of selling or producing or anything like that.
“I think that’s really cool because there aren’t many companies who can justify doing something like that. But we’ve managed to build a business around monetizing the content we produce around the product instead of actually selling said product.”
The latest Hacksmith project which went viral was their working lightsaber prototype, the iconic sword from the Star Wars franchise. The plasma sword burns at 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s the closest thing to a real-life working lightsaber that anyone’s ever seen.
Hobson said the team spent the last six months on the build and the lightsaber itself cost an estimated $50,000 to construct, which includes 500 hours of labour.
The video has since broken all kinds of records for their channel, scoring 18 million views and earning the channel an additional 700,000 subscribers in less than a week.
“Turning it on for the first time, it’s like: ‘Holy crap, this is a lightsaber,’” Hobson said. “I imagine that if lightsabers were real, this is exactly what it would feel like to hold one. It’s just a cool piece of sci-fi tech.
"I think I said in the video; it’s the pinnacle of sci-fi tech. It’s probably one of the most well-known and sought after pieces of tech from any movie franchise out there."
The latest lightsaber project marks the fourth time that Hobson and company have developed the concept into a real prototype. In the future, they plan to make another iteration of the lightsaber and refine the build to make it cordless.
While the Hacksmith releases content on a weekly basis, it takes careful planning on the back-end to ensure the channel has videos to release every week. This requires the team to work on anywhere from six to eight projects simultaneously to have a continual stream of content to share with their viewers.
Hobson always had big dreams for the future as he envisioned himself as a millionaire by the age of 26 when he was only 16 years old. He didn’t hit the million-dollar threshold at age 26, but The Hacksmith channel boasted over one million YouTube subscribers by then.
“I don’t exactly have a million dollars cash sitting around, but I’ve built something even more valuable than just getting rich,” Hobson said. “I’ve created a company — almost a movement — and the channel as a by-product ends up inspiring tens of thousands of youth around the world to look into STEM fields.
“Because our videos, like MythBusters, show how cool it is to be able to do engineering, and open up people’s minds to what’s possible with technology. And I think that’s really incredible.”
As for what’s next for Hacksmith Industries, they’re working on refining a working power loader prototype from the movie “Aliens”. Hobson also hopes to develop a hoverboard from “Back to the Future 2”, and a hovering DeLorean car from the beloved franchise.
One project they’re especially excited about, which they haven’t released any content for yet, is a helicopter hat from the “Inspector Gadget” animated series. The team sunk about $25,000 into the project, but they’re waiting to perfect the model before getting it off the ground.
Many years ago, it might not have been cool as a kid to forge a career in science and technology, but Hobson and Hacksmith Industries are not only proving it is possible to find a career in STEM, but it’s also a lucrative business.
In the future, Hobson hopes his projects lead to mass production of practical projects that will help people in their everyday lives. For the time being, he’s proud The Hacksmith’s videos bring joy and inspiration to over 900 million viewers worldwide.“Maybe I’ve inspired the next Edison or the next Elon Musk,” Hobson said. “There are so many kids out there who have gone into science and tech because they were inspired by the videos. I think it’s really incredible that we can have that big of an impact.”