ETH0 Autumn 2021: Tiny Camp Manages COVID Precautions Indoors

It’s tempting despite news of stubbornly higher-than-ideal COVID infection figures, to imagine that just maybe the world might be returning to some semblance of pre-pandemic normality. Where this is being written we’re a largely vaccinated population long out of lockdown, and though perhaps some of the pandemic pronouncements of our politicians are a bit suspect we’re cautiously able to enjoy most of life’s essentials. Visiting the supermarket and having a beer might be one thing, but the effect of the pandemic is still being felt in our community’s gatherings. BornHack went ahead this summer, but the headline MCH hacker camp was put off until 2022 and the upcoming CCC Congress in Germany is once more to be a virtual event.

But some events manage to put together the right mix of precaution and size. Such was the case with ETH0, a hacker camp which I was happy to attend last weekend.

Continue reading “ETH0 Autumn 2021: Tiny Camp Manages COVID Precautions Indoors”

Electronic Covid Test Tear Down Shows Frustrating Example Of 1-Time-Use Waste

The latest video from [TheSignalPath] is a result of his purchase of a home COVID-19 test. He found an electronic version that connects to your cell phone and displays the results on the phone. The device is an antigen test and, internally, works like the home tests that show the results using lines similar to a pregnancy test. So, somehow, the phone version reads the lines and communicates with the phone. But how? That’s the point of the video, which you can see below.

In a traditional test, there’s a control line that has to appear to show that the test was done correctly. Then a line under that indicates detection of the virus. The circuit board inside the electronic test has a plastic unit onboard that contains a similar strip and has optical sensors for both the reference line and the detection line. Since it is essentially an optical device — there are some lenses in the strip assembly that look like they are detecting the dye as it moves through the strip with LEDs onboard to shed light on the situation.

Under the microscope, the CPU is a typical Bluetooth-capable ARM chip from Nordic. The board did power up, but the device is made to only operate once because of the test strip. The video notes — and we agree — it seems wasteful to create an entire Bluetooth-enabled microcontroller board with optical components just to read a strip one time that is pretty easy to read to start with. We’ll stick with the simple test strip. Still, it is interesting to see the insides.

If you want to read more about antigen tests, we covered that. We also talked about PCR testing.

Continue reading “Electronic Covid Test Tear Down Shows Frustrating Example Of 1-Time-Use Waste”

A Raspberry Pi-based COVID Green Pass validator verifies a QR code on a phone.

COVID Green Pass Validator With Raspberry Pi

It seems like every nation is dealing with the plague a little differently. In June, the EU instated a COVID Green Pass which comes in the form of a paper or digital QR code. It was designed to grease the wheels of travel throughout Europe and allow access to nursing homes. As of early August, the Green Pass is now required of those 12 and older in Italy to gain access to bars and restaurants, museums, theaters, etc. — anywhere people gather in sizeable groups. The Green Pass shows that you’ve either been vaccinated, have had COVID and recovered, or you have tested negative, and there are different half-lives for each condition: nine months for vaccinated, six for recovered, and just forty-eight hours for a negative test.

[Luca Dentella] has built a Green Pass validator using a Raspberry Pi and a Raspi camera. Actual validation must be done through the official app, so this project is merely for educational purposes. Here’s how it works: the user data including their status and the date/time of pass issuance are encoded into a JSON file, then into CBOR, then it is digitally signed for authenticity. After that, the information is zipped up into a base-45 string, which gets represented as a QR code on your phone. Fortunately, [Luca] found the Minister of Health’s GitHub, which does the hard work of re-inflating the JSON object.

[Luca]’s Pi camera reads in the QR and does complete validation using two apps — a camera client written in Python that finds QRs and sends them to the validation server, written in Node.js. The validation server does formal verification including verifying the signature and the business rules (e.g. has it been more than 48 hours since Karen tested negative?) Fail any of these and the red LED lights up; pass them all and you get the green light. Demo video is after the break.

Are you Canadian? Then check this out, eh?

Continue reading “COVID Green Pass Validator With Raspberry Pi”

Fight Disease With A Raspberry Pi

Despite the best efforts of scientists around the world, the current global pandemic continues onward. But even if you aren’t working on a new vaccine or trying to curb the virus with some other seemingly miraculous technology, there are a few other ways to help prevent the spread of the virus. By now we all know of ways to do that physically, but now thanks to [James Devine] and a team at CERN we can also model virus exposure directly on our own self-hosted Raspberry Pis.

The program, called the Covid-19 Airborne Risk Assessment (CARA), is able to take in a number of metrics about the size and shape of an area, the number of countermeasures already in place, and plenty of other information in order to provide a computer-generated model of the number of virus particles predicted as a function of time. It can run on a number of different Pi hardware although [James] recommends using the Pi 4 as the model does take up a significant amount of computer resources. Of course, this only generates statistical likelihoods of virus transmission but it does help get a more accurate understanding of specific situations.

For more information on how all of this works, the group at CERN also released a paper about their model. One of the goals of this project is that it is freely available and runs on relatively inexpensive hardware, so hopefully plenty of people around the world are able to easily run it to further develop understanding of how the virus spreads. For other ways of using your own computing power to help fight Covid, don’t forget about Folding@Home for using up all those extra CPU and GPU cycles.

Getting Back Into Hackerspaces

Last week, I got my first chance to get out and about among the hackers in what feels like forever. Hackerspaces here in Germany are finally able to re-open for business-as-almost-usual, allowing access to reasonable numbers of people providing they’re immunized or tested, and wearing masks of course. And that meant that I got to take up [Andreas’] invitation to come see his Stereo Ninja inspection microscope project in person.

Stereo Ninja basically makes clever use of two Raspberry Pi cameras, swaps out the optics for greater enlargement, and displays the results on a 3D monitor — to be viewed with shutter glasses. This is one of those projects that you really have to see in person to “get it”. He’s still working on stripping the build down to make it simpler and more affordable, to make the project more accessible to the average hacker.

We talked about DIYing a 3D monitor. It turns out that the shutter glasses are cheap, and it looks like they’re synced by an IR pulse to the monitor. There should be a hacker solution for 3D to work with a fast gaming monitor at least. [Andreas] also pointed me to this great breakout board for the Raspberry Pi CM4 that breaks out both camera lanes for easy stereo / 3D capture. I got the tour of the FabLab, and we talked welding, metal 3D printing, software, hardware and assorted nerdy stuff. [Alex] showed up on his way out of town for the weekend — it’d been ages since we hung out.

In short, I remembered how it used to be in the before-times, when visits with other hackers, and to other hackerspaces, were possible. There’s this spontaneous and mutually inspirational kind of chat that’s just impossible remotely, and is tremendously important.

We’re not done with the COVID pandemic yet, I fear, and different parts of the world have entirely different trajectories. If you told me two years ago that I would be visiting hackerspaces with a mask and proof-of-vaccination, I would have thought you were crazy. But at the same time this brief visit gave me a little boost of hope for the future. We will get through all of this, and we’ll all meet up again at our local hackerspaces.

Reporting From BornHack 2021: Hacker Camps Making It Through The Pandemic

In a normal summer we would be spoiled for choice here in Europe when it came to our community’s events, with one big camp and a host of smaller ones near and far. Only the most hardcore of travelers manage to make it to all of them, but it’s usually possible to take in at least one or two over the season. But of course, this isn’t a normal summer. Many of us may now be vaccinated against COVID-19, but we remain in the grip of a global pandemic. The massive Dutch MCH camp was postponed until 2022, and most of the smaller camps have fallen by the wayside due to uncertainty. But one hacker camp carried on.

BornHack in Denmark was the world’s only in-person summer hacker event of 2020, and on its return last week made it the only such event in Europe for 2021. Having secured a ticket earlier in the year when they went on sale, I navigated the tricky world of cross-border European travel in a pandemic to make my way to the Hylkedam scout camp on the Danish isle of Fyn for a week in the company of hackers from all over Northern Europe. BornHack had achieved the impossible again, and it was time to enjoy a much-needed week at a hacker camp.

Continue reading “Reporting From BornHack 2021: Hacker Camps Making It Through The Pandemic”

Two views of the M19O2 oxygen concentrator

Design Improvements Make DIY Oxygen Concentrator Even Better

A lot of projects we feature on these pages are of the “one and done” variety — tactical builds that serve a specific purpose with little need for further development. Some projects, though, come out as rough prototypes and then go through multiple rounds of refinement, a process we really enjoy tracking down and following. And when the project is something as important as an oxygen concentrator that can be built and maintained easily, all the better.

The need for cheap oxygen concentrators stems directly from the COVID-19 pandemic, which suggested that high-flow oxygen therapy was a better choice than invasive intubations and mechanical ventilation. But medical-grade oxygen isn’t always easy to come by in all parts of the world, so easily built oxygen concentrators, which rely on the nitrogen-adsorbing properties of the mineral zeolite, are meant to fill the gaps. Early versions of the M19O2 and the related OxyKit concentrator, had a very homebrew feel to them, built on wooden frames as they were. And while the rustic nature of the early builds didn’t detract from their utility, the hackers behind them, including our own [Anool Mahidharia], have been making incremental improvements aimed at not only making the devices work better, but also making them easier to build.

The hackers at Maker’s Asylum have done a fantastic job at documenting their work, with everything posted to a GitHub repo so that anyone can undertake a build. And really, for something as important as making oxygen when it’s needed, there’s really no reason not to give this a try.