Microwave Modified For Disinfecting

We’re all hopefully a little more concerned about health these days, but with that concern comes a growing demand for products like hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and masks. Some masks are supposed to be single-use only, but with the shortage [Bob] thought it would be good if there were a way to sanitize things like masks without ruining them. He was able to modify a microwave oven to do just that.

His microwave doesn’t have a magnetron anymore, which is the part that actually produces the microwaves for cooking. In its place is an ultraviolet light which has been shown to be effective at neutralizing viruses. The mask is simply placed in the microwave and sterilized with the light. He did have to make some other modifications as well since the magnetron isn’t always powered up when cooking, so instead he wired the light into the circuit for the turntable so that it’s always powered on.

Since UV can be harmful, placing it in the microwave’s enclosure like this certainly limits risks. However, we’d like to point out that the mesh on the microwave door is specifically designed to block microwaves rather than light of any kind, and that you probably shouldn’t put your face up to the door while this thing is operating. Some other similar builds have addressed this issue. Still, it’s a great way to get some extra use out of your PPE.

A Properly Engineered UV Chamber For PPE Sanitization

Designed to be used once and then disposed of, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 face masks proved to be in such short supply during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic that getting a few extra uses out of them by sanitizing them after a shift seemed smart. And so we saw a bunch of designs for sanitizing chambers, mostly based on UV-C light and mostly, sad to say, somewhat dodgy looking. This UV-C disinfection chamber, though, looks like a much better bet.

The link above is to the final installment of a nine-part series by [Jim] from Grass Roots Engineering. The final article has links to all the earlier posts, which go back [Jim]’s early research on UV-C sanitization methods back in March. This led him to settle on an aquarium sanitizer as his UV-C source. A second-hand ultraviolet meter allowed him to quantify the lamp’s output and plan how best to use it, which he did using virtual models of various styles of masks.  Knowing that getting light on every surface of the mask is important, he designed a mechanism to move the mask around inside a reflective chamber. The finished chamber, which can be seen in the video below, is 3D-printed and looks like it means business, with an interlock for safety and a Trinket for control.

We love the level of detail [Jim] put into these posts and the thoughtful engineering approach he took toward this project. And we appreciate his careful testing, too — after all, it wouldn’t do to use a germicidal lamp that actually doesn’t emit UV-C.

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PPE Testing Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, June 17 at noon Pacific for the PPE Testing Hack Chat with Hiram Gay and Lex Kravitz!

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.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, June 17 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

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.
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Hackaday Links: June 14, 2020

You say you want to go to Mars, but the vanishingly thin atmosphere, the toxic and corrosive soil, the bitter cold, the deadly radiation that sleets down constantly, and the long, perilous journey that you probably won’t return from has turned you off a little. Fear not, because there’s still a way for you to get at least part of you to Mars: your intelligence. Curiosity, the Mars rover that’s on the eighth year of its 90-day mission, is completely remote-controlled, and NASA would like to add some self-driving capabilities to it. Which is why they’re asking for human help in classifying thousands of images of the Martian surface. By annotating images and pointing out what looks like soil and what looks like rock, you’ll be training an algorithm that one day might be sent up to the rover. If you’ve got the time, give it a shot — it seems a better use of time than training our eventual AI overlords.

We got a tip this week that ASTM, the international standards organization, has made its collection of standards for testing PPE available to the public. With titles like “Standard Test Method for Resistance of Medical Face Masks to Penetration by Synthetic Blood (Horizontal Projection of Fixed Volume at a Known Velocity)”, it seems like the standards body wants to make sure that that homebrew PPE gets tested properly before being put into service. The timing of this release is fortuitous since this week’s Hack Chat features Hiram Gay and Lex Kravitz, colleagues from the Washington University School of Medicine who will talk about what they did to test a respirator made from a full-face snorkel mask.

There’s little doubt that Lego played a huge part in the development of many engineers, and many of us never really put them away for good. We still pull them out occasionally, for fun or even for work, especially the Technic parts, which make a great prototyping system. But what if you need a Technic piece that you don’t have, or one that never existed in the first place? Easy — design and print your own custom Technic pieces. Lego Part Designer is a web app that breaks Technic parts down into five possible blocks, and lets you combine them as you see fit. We doubt that most FDM printers can deal with the fine tolerances needed for that satisfying Lego fit, but good enough might be all you need to get a design working.

Chances are pretty good that you’ve participated in more than a few video conferencing sessions lately, and if you’re anything like us you’ve found the experience somewhat lacking. The standard UI, with everyone in the conference organized in orderly rows and columns, reminds us of either a police line-up or the opening of The Brady Bunch, neither of which is particularly appealing. The paradigm could use a little rethinking, which is what Laptops in Space aims to do. By putting each participant’s video feed in a virtual laptop and letting them float in space, you’re supposed to have a more organic meeting experience. There’s a tweet with a short clip, or you can try it yourself. We’re not sure how we feel about it yet, but we’re glad someone is at least trying something new in this space.

And finally, if you’re in need of a primer on charlieplexing, or perhaps just need to brush up on the topic, [pileofstuff] has just released a video that might be just what you need. He explains the tri-state logic LED multiplexing method in detail, and even goes into some alternate uses, like using optocouplers to drive higher loads. We like his style — informal, but with a good level of detail that serves as a jumping-off point for further exploration.

Surviving The Pandemic As A Hacker: Making A Mask Of Your Very Own

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued along its way through the world, our community has responded as it always does, by designing and making things intended to solve the problems thrown up by the situation we find ourselves in. Much of this effort has gone into the production of PPE to plug the gap and many essential staff have been protected by maker-provided equipment, while the remainder of the effort has produced a wide array of clever designs for COVID-related items.

With curves flattened in many areas, Governments around the world are now encouraging the wearing of face masks in everyday social interactions. The purpose of mask for the general public is for droplet catching rather than virus filtering, and home made masks easily accomplish this. So let’s take a look at what you need to know about making a mast of your very own.

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Surviving The Pandemic As A Hacker: Peering Behind The Mask

We’re now several months into the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with most parts of the world falling somewhere on the lockdown/social distancing/opening up path.

It’s fair to say now that while the medical emergency has not passed, the level of knowledge about it has changed significantly. When communities were fighting to slow the initial spead, the focus was on solving the problem of medical protection gear and other equipment shortages at all costs with some interesting yet possibly hazardous solutions. Now the focus has moved towards protecting the general public when they do need to venture out, and as society learns to get life moving again with safety measures in place.

So, we all need masks of some sort. What type to do you need? Is one type better than another? And how do we all get them when everyone suddenly needs what was once a somewhat niche item?

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Hackaday Links: May 17, 2020

Consider it the “Scarlet Letter” of our time. An MIT lab is developing a face mask that lights up to alert others when the wearer has COVID-19. The detection technology is based on sensors that were developed for the Ebola virus scare and uses fluorescently tagged DNA fragments freeze-dried onto absorbent strips built into the mask. The chemistry is activated by the moisture in the sputum expelled when the wearer coughs or sneezes while wearing the mask; any SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the sputum bind to the strips, when then light up under UV. The list of problems a scheme like this entails is long and varied, not least of which is what would possess someone to willingly don one of these things. Still, it’s an interesting technology.

Speaking of intrusive expansions of the surveillance state, Singapore is apparently now using a Boston Dynamics Spot robot to enforce social-distancing rules in its public parks and gardens. The familiar four-legged, bright yellow dog-bot is carrying cameras that are relaying images of park attendees to some sort of image analysis program and are totally not capturing facial or personal data, pinky swear. If people are found to be violating the two-meter rule, Spot will bark out a prerecorded reminder to spread out a bit. How the system differentiates between people who live together who are out getting some fresh air and strangers who should be staying apart, and whether the operators of this have ever seen how this story turns out are open questions.

Those who lived through 9/11 in the United States no doubt remember the deafening silence that descended over the country for three days while every plane in the civil aviation fleet was grounded. One had no idea how much planes contributed to the noise floor of life until they were silenced. So too with the lockdown implemented worldwide to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, except with the sometimes dramatic reduction in pollution levels. We’ve all seen pictures where people suddenly realize that Los Angeles isn’t necessarily covered by an orange cloud of smog, and that certain mountain ranges are actually visible if you care to look. But getting some hard data is always useful, and these charts show just how much the pollution situation improved in a number of countries throughout the world after their respective lockdowns. For some cities, the official lockdown was a clear demarcation between the old pollution regime and the new, but for some, there was an obvious period before the lockdown was announced where people were obviously curtailing their activity. It’s always interesting pore over data like this and speculated what it all means.

While the in-person aspects of almost every conference under the sun have been canceled, many of them have switched to a virtual meeting that can at least partially make up for the full experience. And coming up next weekend is Virtually Maker Faire, in the slot where Bay Area Maker Faire would normally be offered. The call for makers ends today, so get your proposals in and sign up to attend.

And finally, there aren’t too many times in life you’ll get a chance to get to visualize a number so large that an Evil Empire was named for it. The googol, or 10100, was a term coined by the nine-year-old nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner when he asked the child for a good name for a really big number. To put the immensity of that number into perspective, The Brick Experiment Channel on YouTube put together an improbably long gear train using Lego pieces we’ve never seen before with a reduction ratio of 10103.4:1. The gear train has a ton of different power transmission elements in it, from plain spur gears to worm drives and even planetary gears. We found the 2608.5:1 harmonic gear particularly fascinating. There’s enough going on to keep even a serious gearhead entertained, but perhaps not for the 5.2×1091 years it’ll take to revolve the final gear once. Something, something, heat-death of the universe. [Ed note: prior art, which we were oddly enough thinking of fondly just a few days ago. Synchronicity!]