Toyota’s Code Didn’t Meet Standards and Might Have Led To Death

We were initially skeptical of this article by [Aleksey Statsenko] as it read a bit conspiratorially. However, he proved the rule by citing his sources and we could easily check for ourselves and reach our own conclusions. There were fatal crashes in Toyota cars due to a sudden unexpected acceleration. The court thought that the code might be to blame, two engineers spent a long time looking at the code, and it did not meet common industry standards. Past that there’s not a definite public conclusion.

[Aleksey] has a tendency to imply that normal legal proceedings and recalls for design defects are a sign of a sinister and collaborative darker undercurrent in the world. However, this article does shine a light on an actual dark undercurrent. More and more things rely on software than ever before. Now, especially for safety critical code, there are some standards. NASA has one and in the pertinent case of cars, there is the Motor Industry Software Reliability Association C Standard (MISRA C). Are these standards any good? Are they realistic? If they are, can they even be met?

When two engineers sat down, rather dramatically in a secret hotel room, they looked through Toyota’s code and found that it didn’t even come close to meeting these standards. Toyota insisted that it met their internal standards, and further that the incidents were to be blamed on user error, not the car.

So the questions remain. If they didn’t meet the standard why didn’t Toyota get VW’d out of the market? Adherence to the MIRSA C standard entirely voluntary, but should common rules to ensure code quality be made mandatory? Is it a sign that people still don’t take software seriously? What does the future look like? Either way, browsing through [Aleksey]’s article and sources puts a fresh and very real perspective on the problem. When it’s NASA’s bajillion dollar firework exploding a satellite it’s one thing, when it’s a car any of us can own it becomes very real.

Upcycle An Isolation Transformer

There are several reasons you should have an isolation transformer. They can prevent ground loops and also prevent a device under test from having a DC path to ground (or isolate an oscilloscope from DC ground, which can be dangerous in its own right, but that’s another discussion). [Tanner_tech] noticed that finding ballast transformers for sodium vapor street lights is getting easier as more street lights move to LED technology. What to do with these transformers? Build an isolation transformer, of course.

Of course, your dumpster transformer might be a little different than the one shown in the post (and the video, below). [Tanner] shows how to work out the leads you need. A little wood work and a PC power supply case finished the project.

Judging from the comments, some people take [Tanner’s] talk about safety as an implication that a transformer makes working on mains safe. It doesn’t. It makes it safer if you know what you are doing. Working with high voltage isn’t a place to learn by doing.

If you want some practical advice, [Jenny List] has a good read for you. You probably also ought to invest an hour in watching this video that has a lot of practical advice.

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Taming the Beast: Pro-Tips for Designing a Safe Homebrew Laser Cutter

Homebrew laser cutters are nifty devices, but scorching your pals, burning the house down, or smelling up the neighborhood isn’t anyone’s idea of a great time. Lets face it. A 60-watt laser that can cut plastics offers far more trouble than even the crankiest 3D-printers (unless, of course, our 3D printed spaghetti comes to life and decides to terrorize the neighborhood). Sure, a laser’s focused beam is usually pointed in the right direction while cutting, but even an unfocused beam that reflects off a shiny material can start fires. What’s more, since most materials burn, rather than simply melt, a host of awful fumes spew from every cut.

Despite the danger, the temptation to build one is irresistible. With tubes, power supplies, and water coolers now in abundance from overseas re-sellers, the parts are just a PayPal-push away from landing on our doorsteps. We’ve also seen a host of exciting builds come together on the dining room table. Our table could be riddled with laser parts too! After combing through countless laser build logs, I’ve yet to encounter the definitive guide that tells us how to take the proper first steps forward in keeping ourselves safe while building our own laser cutter. Perhaps that knowledge is implicit to the community, scattered on forums; or perhaps it’s learned by each brave designer on their own from one-too-many close calls. Neither of these options seems fair to the laser newb, so I decided to lay down the law here.

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Working with Mains Voltage: The Electrifying Conclusion!

This is the second in a two-part series looking at safety when experimenting with mains-voltage electronic equipment, including the voltages you might find derived from a mains supply but not extending to multi-kilovolt EHT except in passing. In the first part we looked at the safety aspects of your bench, protecting yourself from the mains supply, ensuring your tools and instruments are adequate for the voltages in hand, and finally with your mental approach to a piece of high-voltage equipment.

The mental part is the hard part, because that involves knowing a lot about the inner life of the mains-voltage design. So in this second article on mains voltages, we’ll look into where the higher voltages live inside consumer electronics.

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Looking Mains Voltage In The Eye And Surviving

It is often a surprise to see how other people react to mains electricity when they encounter it in a piece of equipment. As engineers who have dealt with it both personally and professionally for many years it is easy to forget that not everyone has had that experience. On one hand we wince at those who dive in with no fear of the consequences, on the other we are constantly surprised at the number of people who treat any item with more than a few volts in it as though it was contaminated with radioactive anthrax and are scared to even think about opening it up.

We recently had a chat among the Hackaday writers about how we could approach this subject. The easy way out is to be all Elf-and-Safety and join the radioactive anthrax crowd. But the conclusion we came to was that this site is a resource for hackers and makers. Some of you are going to lift the lid on boxes containing significant voltages no matter what, so we thought we’d help you do it safely rather than just listen for the distant screams.

So here follows the first in a series on how to approach electronic devices containing high voltages, and live to tell the tale. By “high voltages” we mean anything up to mains voltages, and those directly derived from them such as the few hundred volts rectified DC you’ll find in a switch-mode PSU. For multi-kilovolt EHT you’ll have to wait for another article, because that is an entire subject in itself. We’ll mention these higher voltages in passing, but their detail is best left for a Hackaday colleague with more pertinent experience.

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Colin Furze Gets Burned

Consider this a public service announcement. [Colin Furze], besides being a raging lunatic, seems to have the nine lives of a cat. Well, he’s not always so lucky, and now that we’ve recovered from being grossed out by the results, we’re glad that [Colin] posted this “fail” video.

Basically, he’s firing up one of his jet engines, and there’s a big fireball. He wasn’t wearing any protective clothing. This is hardly a spoiler — please don’t watch the video below if you’re grossed out by people visiting the doctor’s office to get their horrible second degree burns all up and down their forearm treated. You’ve probably learned the lesson already just by looking at the preview image.

Naturally, we’ve covered [Colin]’s videos before. He’s either very lucky or a little bit more careful than he lets on. We’ve seen him play with fire and not get burned, and stick a jet engine on a go-kart. We’re not gonna tell you what to do, but if that were us, we’d be wearing at least long sleeves and a helmet.

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New Research Sheds Light on 3D Printing Fumes

A few years back, there were some studies on the chemical and particle emissions coming out of the hotends of 3D printers. Although they galvanized a lot of people in the community, the science wasn’t entirely conclusive — one paper made it sound like you needed a hazmat suit for 3D printing, and the other suggested that cooking a meal in a kitchen was worse for you. That’s because they were measuring different things.

This new research paper on the emissions of 3D printers covers all the bases. They examined a variety of different materials printed in different printers. They also measured both chemical emissions and Ultrafine Particles (UFP) which can be hazardous even when the material itself is not.

We read the paper (PDF) so that you don’t have to. Here’s our takeaways:

  • 3d_printer_particles.pngThere was no significant variation across brands of 3D printers. (Duh?)
  • ABS and similar materials outgas styrene at levels you should probably be worrying about if you’re running your printer for a few hours a day in an unventilated office.
  • PLA emitted significantly less overall, and most of it was a non-hazardous chemical, lactide. PLA doesn’t look like a problem.
  • All of the materials resulted in increased UFP exposure. These levels are above normal household background levels, but lower than certain “microclimates” which (if you follow the references) include principals’ offices with carpet, automobiles, restaurants, and rooms with burning candles or running hair dryers. In short, the UFP exposure doesn’t look like it’s going to be a big deal unless you’re sitting right next to the printer and running it continually.

So what would we do? It now looks like it’s prudent to print ABS only in a well-ventilated room. Or enclose the printer in a box and vent whatever you can outside — which can also help prevent breezes cooling the piece down unevenly and adding to ABS’s warping problems. Or just stick to PLA. It looks essentially harmless.

Thanks [Jim Scheitel] for the tip!