2020: Everything Is Virtual

It’s like the dystopian future arrived out of the blue. From one year to the next we went from holing up in overly air-conditioned hotel ballrooms and actually meeting our fellow meatbags in the flesh, to huddling in our pods and staring at the screens. I’m looking for the taps to hook me in to the Matrix at this point.

But if you haven’t yet received your flying car or your daily Soma ration, you can still take comfort in one thing: all of the hacker conferences are streaming live, as if it were some fantastic cyber-future! In fact, as we type this, someone is telling you how to print your way to free drinks on USAir flights as part of HOPE’s offering, but the talks will continue for the next few days. (Go straight to live stream one.)

If retrocomputing is more your thing, Saturday marks the start of the virtual Vintage Computer Festival West of which Hackaday is a proud sponsor. (Here’s the schedule.)

And next weekend is DEF CON in Safe Mode with Networking. While we can totally imagine how the talks and demo sessions will work, the Villages, informal talks and hack-togethers based on a common theme, will be a real test of distributed conferencing.

OK, I’ll admit it: I really miss getting together with folks and having the truly random conversations that pre-scripted teleconferences just don’t seem to facilitate. Lobbycon suffers in lockdown. But if you’ve never been to any of these events, and you just want a taste of the talks and presentations at least, now’s your chance to get in for free. And if you like what you see, and if the virus lets us, we’ll see you in person next summer!

Sanitizer Dispenser Does It Hands-Free

Hand sanitizer is the hot product of 2020, and it seems nobody can get enough. In the same way that touching a dirty tap takes the shine off washing your hands in a public bathroom, one wishes to avoid touching the hand sanitizer bottle entirely. To get around this, [makendo] whipped up a quick solution.

The solution consists of a 3D printed caddy which holds a typical bottle of hand sanitizer. This is affixed to a wall with either screws or double sided tape. A long string is then attached to the dispenser nozzle, and passes down to a foot pedal. By depressing the pedal, it pulls on the string, pulling down the dispenser nozzle and delivering the required sanitizer to the hands.

It’s by no means an advanced hack, but one that can be whipped up in a short time to make sanitizing one’s hands just that little bit more pain-free. If you’re still short on sanitizer, you might want to make your own. If you do, let us know how it goes. Otherwise, consider alternate methods of automating the delivery!

ESP32 Turned Open Source COVID-19 Contact Tracer

Over the past few months we’ve heard a lot about contact tracers which are designed to inform users if they’ve potentially come into close proximity with someone who has the virus. Generally these systems have been based on smartphone applications, but there are also hardware solutions that can operate independently for those who are unable or unwilling to install the software. Which is precisely what [Tom Bensky] has implemented using an ESP32 and a USB battery bank.

The idea is simple: the software generates a unique ID which is broadcast out by the ESP32 over Bluetooth Low Energy. Appended to that ID is a code that indicates the person’s current physical condition. There’s no centralized database, each user is expected to update their device daily with any symptoms they may be experiencing. If your tracker is blinking, that means somebody has come in close enough proximity that you should look at the collected data and see how they were feeling at the time.

It’s not a perfect system, of course, as for one thing the number of people that are willing and able to flash this firmware onto a spare ESP32 and carry the thing around with them all day is going to be extremely small. This might have filled an interesting niche if we were still going to hacker and maker cons this summer, but all of those have gone virtual anyway. That said, it’s an interesting look at how a decentralized contact tracing system can be implemented cheaply and quickly.

Another detail worth taking a look at is how [Tom] handled the user experience in his firmware. In an effort to make the tracer as easy as possible to configure, he’s using the Web Bluetooth capability of Google Chrome. Just open up the local web page in your browser, and it will handle talking to the hardware for you. Even if you’re not in the market for a contract tracer, we think this is a great example for how to handle end-user configuration on the ESP32.

We’ve already looked at contact tracer APIs from Google and Apple, dedicated COVID-19 hardware tokens, and even other open source attempts at decentralized proximity tracking. It’s a lot to process, and everyone seems to have their own idea on how it should be done. In the end, the most practical solution is probably to just stay at home as much as possible.

A Face Mask That’s Functional And Hacker-Certified

[splat238] needed a mask for going out in public, but wanted something that fit his personal style a bit better than the cloth masks everyone else was wearing. So, he upcycled his old airsoft mesh mask using an impressive 104 NeoPixels to create his NeoPixel LED Face Mask.

The NeoPixels are based on the popular WS2812b LEDs. These are individually addressable RGB LEDs with a pretty impressive glow. [splat238] purchased a 144 NeoPixel strip to avoid having to solder each of those 104 NeoPixels one-by-one. He cut the 144-LED strip into smaller segments to help fit the LEDs around the mask. He then soldered the power and data lines together so that he could still control the LEDs as if they were one strip and not the several segments he cut them into. He needed a pretty bulky battery pack to power the whole thing. You can imagine how much power 104 RGB LEDs would need to run. We recommend adding a battery protection circuit next time as these LEDs probably draw a hefty amount of current.

He designed his own controller board featuring an ESP8266 microcontroller. Given its sizable internal memory, the ESP8266 makes it easy to store a variety of LED patterns without worrying about running out of programming space. He’s also hoping to add some WiFi features in later revisions of his mask, so the ESP8266 is a no-brainer. Additionally, his controller board features three pushbuttons that allow him to toggle through different LED patterns on the fly.

Cool project [splat238]! Looking forward to the WiFi version.

Continue reading “A Face Mask That’s Functional And Hacker-Certified”

Quickly Mute And Unmute Yourself Using The Physical Mute Button

With many conferences moving to fully virtual this year, video conferencing will continue to be a mainstay in our lives for the foreseeable future. [Elliot] wanted to spice up his video conferencing experience just a bit and make his experience a bit more ergonomic. We’ve all had the problem of looking for our Zoom window buried behind any number of other applications, desperately searching for the mute button. Furthermore, when we get called on, we’re desperately trying to give the impression that we’ve been paying attention the entire time, even when we haven’t been.

To solve all these problems, he built a physical mute button to easily toggle the mute option on and off during Zoom calls. The device takes advantage of the native USB feature of his Digispark board, and a few built-in keyboard shortcuts in Zoom. With native USB, the Digispark board can act like a keyboard, making it really simple to emulate keyboard presses using the microcontroller. Throw in an arcade-style button and do a bit of handcrafting and you have yourself your own physical mute button.

We were really impressed by the simplicity of the design as well as the elegance of the mechanical assembly. [Elliot] even made a revamped version with a second button allowing him to control his video as well. Cool button(s) [Elliot]!

What’s your favorite work-from-home hack? Check out some of our favorites here on Hackaday.

Continue reading “Quickly Mute And Unmute Yourself Using The Physical Mute Button”

Detect COVID-19 Symptoms Using Wearable Device And AI

A new study from West Virginia University (WVU) Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) uses a wearable device and artificial intelligence (AI) to predict COVID-19 up to 3 days before symptoms occur. The study has been an impressive undertaking involving over 1000 health care workers and frontline workers in hospitals across New York, Philadelphia, Nashville, and other critical COVID-19 hotspots.

The implementation of the digital health platform uses a custom smartphone application coupled with an Ōura smart ring to monitor biometric signals such as respiration and temperature. The platform also assesses psychological, cognitive, and behavioral data through surveys administered through a smartphone application.

We know that wearables tend to suffer from a lack of accuracy, particularly during activity. However, the Ōura ring appears to take measurements while the user is very still, especially during sleep. This presents an advantage as the accuracy of wearable devices greatly improves when the user isn’t moving. RNI noted that the Ōura ring has been the most accurate device they have tested.

Given some of the early warning signals for COVID-19 are fever and respiratory distress, it would make sense that a device able to measure respiration and temperature could be used as an early detector of COVID-19. In fact, we’ve seen a few wearable device companies attempt much of what RNI is doing as well as a few DIY attempts. RNI’s study has probably been the most thorough work released so far, but we’re sure that many more are upcoming.

The initial phase of the study was deployed among healthcare and frontline workers but is now open to the general public. Meanwhile the National Basketball Association (NBA) is coordinating its re-opening efforts using Ōura’s technology.

We hope to see more results emerge from RNI’s very important work. Until then, stay safe Hackaday.

Digi-Key Hacks UV Into Conveyor Line To Protect Warehouse Staff

No doubt that every hacker has already heard of Digi-Key, the electronic component distributor that makes it just as possible to order one of something as it is to order a thousand of it. As an essential business, Digi-Key has been open during the duration of the lockdown since they support critical manufacturing services for virtually every industry on the planet including the medical industry.

Ensuring their workforce stays healthy is key to remaining open and as part of their efforts they hacked together a nice addition to their sanitation regime. They use around 8,000 plastic totes to transport components around the distribution center and devised a way to sanitize tote coming in from the receiving area using a UV light tunnel. From their sanitation plan we can see this is in addition to the fogging system (likely a vaporized hydrogen peroxide system) used to regularly sanitize the totes passing throughout the warehouse.

They developed a UV light tunnel that wraps around the conveyor rollers. The design includes a sensor and a timer to control when and how long the UV lights are on. The totes are a frequent touch point for employees, and running incoming shipments through the UV light tunnel helps decrease the chance of exposure.

Thinking of using UV as a sanitation tool? Make sure you do your research on the wavelengths you need and vet the source of critical components. [Voja] ran into UV lamps that were anything but germicidal.