As more and more people spend their working hours behind a computer, bad posture and the accompanying back pain and back problems become a growing epidemic. To combat this in his own daily life, [ImageryEel] made PosturePack, a wearable Bluetooth-enabled posture sensor.
The PosturePack is designed to fit into a small pocket sewn into the pack of an undershirt, between the shoulder blades. It consists of a custom PCB with an ATmega32U4, BNO055 IMU, Bluetooth module, small LiPo and power circuitry. Based on the orientation data from the IMU, a notification is sent over Bluetooth to a smartphone whenever the user hunches forward.
[ImageryEel] says although the mobile notifications worked, haptic feedback integrated into the unit would be a better option. This could also be used to remind the user to stand up and take a break now and then, and provide an alternative to a smartwatch for activity monitoring without sending every movement to someone else’s servers. Software will always be the hardest part for projects like these, especially as the device become “smarter”. Learning to recognize activity and postures is actually a good place for tiny machine learning models.
As we’ve looked at the subject of face masks in the first two parts of this series, our emphasis has been on a physical step to aid your chances of making it through the COVID-19 pandemic in one piece. But given that the upheaval caused by all the social changes enacted to protect the population are likely to leave an indelible mark on those who live through them, there are significant aspects of surviving all this that go beyond the physical.
This will be a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people, a significant number will find it traumatic in some way, and for many of those people there will be an immediate and then ongoing effect on mental health. If anyone is in doubt as to from what position this is coming, I count myself among that number.
The Pressure Of A Once In A Lifetime Event
Different countries have placed their own public health restrictions on their populations, but it’s likely that many of you are in some form of lockdown situation, with social or communal activities and locations closed or curtailed, going out restricted, and with all around you in the same situation. A perfect storm of having social outlets removed while simultaneously being stuck at home perhaps with family or housemates you’d prefer not to spend too much time with is not ideal. Add to that the multiple stresses from the pandemic itself as well as other news stories from our turbulent world, and it’s hardly a surprising that it’s taking a toll. Continue reading “Surviving The Pandemic As A Hacker: Take Care Of Your Mental Health”→
When the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in early 2020, the hacker community responded in the most natural way possible: by making stuff. Isolation and idleness lead to a creative surge as hackers got to work on not only long-deferred fun projects but also potential solutions to problems raised by an overloaded medical system and choked supply chains. And so workshops and hackerspaces the world over churned out everything from novel ventilators to social-distancing aids.
But perhaps the greatest amount of creative energy was set loose on the problem of personal protective equipment, or PPE. This was due in no small part to predictions of a severe shortage of the masks, gowns, and gloves that front-line medical workers would need to keep them safe while caring for pandemic victims, but perhaps also because, at least compared to the complexity of something like a ventilator, building a mask seems easy. And indeed it is as long as you leave unanswered the crucial question: does the thing work?
Answering that question is not as easy as it seems, though. It’s not enough to assume that putting some filtration between the user and the world will work; you’ve got to actually make measurements. Hiram Gay and Lex Kravitz, colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, actually crunched the numbers on the full-face snorkel mask they modified for use as a face shield for medical PPE, and they have a lot of insights to share about proper testing of such devices. They’ll join the Hack Chat this week to discuss their findings, offer advice to builders, and reveal how they came up with their idea for a different way to build and test PPE.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “PPE Testing Hack Chat”→
When one thinks of the Jet Propulsion Lab, the NASA lab responsible for such amazing feats of engineering as Mars rovers and galaxy-exploring spacecraft like Voyager, one does not necessarily think of it as a hotbed of medical innovation. But when the COVID-19 pandemic started its march around the globe, JPL engineers decided to turn their skills from exploring other worlds to helping keep people alive in this one. Fittingly, the challenge they tackled was perhaps the most technically challenging: to build a ventilator that’s simple enough to be built in large numbers, enough to make a difference to the predicted shortfall, but that does the non-trivial job of keeping people breathing as safely as possible.
The result was VITAL, or Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally. It was designed, prototyped, and tested on an incredibly ambitious timetable: 37 days total. That number alone would be shocking enough, but when one adds in the disruptions and disconnection forced on the team of JPL engineers by the sudden need to self-isolate and work remotely that came up in the middle of the design process, it’s a wonder the team was able to get anywhere. But they worked through the technical and managerial issues and delivered a design that has now been licensed out to eight manufacturers under a no-fee license.
What does it take to bring something as complex as a ventilator to market in so short a time? To delve into that question, Supply Frame’s Erika Earl, who was part of the VITAL team, will stop by the Hack Chat. We’ll talk to her about being on the JPL team, what the design and prototyping process was like, and how the lessons learned here can apply to any team-based rapid-prototyping effort. You may not be building a ventilator in 37 days, but chances are good you can learn something useful from those who did.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “Rapid Prototyping Hack Chat”→
Google and Apple have joined forces to issue a common API that will run on their mobile phone operating systems, enabling applications to track people who you come “into contact” with in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s an extremely tall order to do so in a way that is voluntary, respects personal privacy as much as possible, doesn’t rely on potentially vulnerable centralized services, and doesn’t produce so many false positives that the results are either ignored or create a mass panic. And perhaps much more importantly, it’s got to work.
Slowing the Spread
As I write this, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be just turning the corner from uncontrolled exponential growth to something that’s potentially more manageable, but it’s not clear that we yet see an end in sight. So far, this has required hundreds of millions of people to go into essentially voluntary quarantine. But that’s a blunt tool. In an ideal world, you could stop the disease globally in a couple weeks if you could somehow test everyone and isolate those who have been exposed to the virus. In the real world, truly comprehensive testing is impossible, and figuring out whom to isolate is extraordinarily difficult due to two factors: COVID-19 has a long incubation period during which it is nonetheless transmissible, and some or even most people don’t know they have it. How can you stop what you can’t see, and even when you can detect it, it’s a week too late?
One promising approach is to isolate those people who’ve been in contact with known cases during the stealth contagion period. To do this is essentially to keep a diary of everyone you’ve been in contact with for the last week or two, and then if you eventually test positive for COVID-19, alert them all so that they can keep from infecting others even before they test positive: track and trace. Doctors can do this by interviewing patients who test positive (this is the “contact tracing” we’ve been hearing so much about), but memory is imperfect. Enter a technological solution. Continue reading “Google And Apple Reveal Their Coronavirus Contact Tracing Plans: We Kick The Tires”→
Due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, there has been a huge shortage of N95 masks. [Paddy Robertson] from Smart Air has been working on designs for a DIY mask that may be able to protect those who haven’t been able to secure their own masks. While there may be an abundance of memes around the various material people have been able to use to substitute for the filters, there is some very real science behind the sorts of materials that can effectively protect us from the virus.
According to a studied performed at Cambridge University during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, while surgical masks perform the best at capturing Bacillus atrophaeus bacteria (0.93-1.25 microns) and Bacteriophage MS virus (0.023 microns), vacuum cleaner bags, and tea towels, and cotton T-shirts were not too far behind. The coronavirus is 0.1-0.2 microns, well within the range for the results of the tests.
As it turns out, cotton homemade masks may be quite effective as alternatives – not to mention reusable. They also found out that double layering the masks didn’t help with improving the protection against viruses. On the other hand, one significant design choice was the breathability of the material. While vacuum cleaner bags may be quite effective at keeping out small particles, they aren’t as comfortable or easy to breathe in as cotton masks.
Have you tried making your own cotton masks? In a time when hospitals are running low on surgical masks, it’s possibly the best option for helping to keep much-needed medical supplies in the hands of those helping at the front line.
While a simple solution would be a large fume hood or a filter to prevent inhaling the fumes, there are more elegant solutions to this problem. [Mark]’s latest project uses an electrostatic precipitator (ESP) to remove the volatile plastic particles from the air. Essentially it is a wire with a strong voltage applied to it enclosed in a vessel of some sort. The voltage charges particles, which then travel to a collecting electrode. Commercial offerings also include an X-ray generator to help clean the air, but [Mark] found this to be prohibitively expensive.
The ESP is built into a small tube through with the air can flow, and the entire device itself is housed in the printing enclosure. The pictures show the corona discharge in the device, and [Mark] plans to test it over the next few months to determine its effectiveness. He does note, however, that the electrostatic discharge creates ozone, which has its own set of problems, so he recommends against building one on your own. Ozone at least still smells like victory.