An Umbrella Can Teach A Thing Or Two About Product Longevity

This time of year always brings a few gems from outside Hackaday’s usual circle, as students attending industrial design colleges release their final year projects, The worlds of art and engineering sit very close together at times, and theirs is a discipline which sits firmly astride that line. This is amply demonstrated by the work of [Charlie Humble-Thomas], who has taken an everyday object, the umbrella, and used it to pose the question: How long should objects last?

He explores the topic by making three different umbrellas, none of which we are guessing resemble those you could buy. The first is not particularly durable but is completely recyclable, the second is designed entirely with repairability in mind, while the third is hugely over-engineered and designed for durability. In each case the reader is intended to think about the impact of the umbrella before them.

What strikes us is how much better designed each one is than the typical cheap umbrella on sale today, with the polypropylene recyclable one being flimsy by design, but with a simplicity missing from its commercial counterpart. The durable one meanwhile is full of CNC parts, and carbon fiber.

If you’re hungry for more student work in this vein, we recently brought you this toasty typewriter.

How Do You Make A Repairable E-Reader

Mobile devices have become notorious for their unrepairability, with glued-together parts and impossible-to-reach connectors. So it’s refreshing to see something new in that field from the e-book reader brand Kobo in the form of a partnership with iFixit to ensure that their new reader line can be fixed.

Naturally, we welcome any such move, not least because it disproves the notion that portable devices are impossible to make with repairability in mind. However, the linked article is especially interesting because it includes a picture of a reader, and its cover has been removed. We’re unsure whether or not this is one of the new ones, but it’s still worth looking at it with reparability eyes. Just what have they done to make it easier to repair?

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Apple Pushes Back On Right To Repair Bill Due To Parts Pairing

After previously supporting one in California, Apple has made an about-face and is now pushing back against a “Right to Repair” bill (Senate Bill 1596) currently under consideration in Oregon. The reason for this appears to be due to this new bill making parts pairing illegal, as reported by [404media] and [PCMag].

The practice of parts pairing is becoming ever more prevalent with Apple devices, which links specific parts of a system such as cameras, displays, batteries, and fingerprint sensors to the mainboard. During the open hearing on the newly proposed Oregonian bill, Apple’s [John Perry] insisted that this parts pairing is done for user security, safety and privacy.

Even in we take that claim at face value, the fact remains that with parts pairing in place, only authorized Apple repair centers can routinely replace components — while user repairs are limited to specific devices with limited part availability. Even in the latter case the user still has to contact Apple to have them reauthorize the replaced part. This is becoming an issue with Apple’s MacBooks as well, where the lid angle sensor requires calibration using a proprietary tool.

During the same hearing, the director of an Oregon nonprofit organization noted that of the 15,000 iPhones which they had donated to them last year, only 300 could be refurbished due to parts pairing. The remainder of otherwise perfectly fine phones are discarded for recycling, which is terrible for everyone but Apple. Whether the parts pairing element of the bill survives it to the final form remains to be seen, but if it passes it’d set the trend for future bills in other states as well as amendments to existing ones.

Thanks to [paulvdh] for the tip.

Polish Train Manufacturer Threatens Hackers Who Unbricked Their Trains

A week ago we covered the story of a Polish train manufacturer who was caught using software to brick their products after they had been repaired by in independent railway workshop. Now 404 Media has a follow-up story with more information, including the news that the hackers responsible for the discovery are now being threatened by the manufacturer.

The more we learn about this story the more interesting it becomes, as the Newag trains in question began failing after service as far back as 2021. In desperation after services were affected by the number of non-functional units, an employee searched online for Polish hackers and found a group called Dragon Sector. The group was able to find the issue, and are now being threatened with legal action by the manufacturer, who are citing possible safety issues.

It’s clear from where we are standing that Newag have been caught red-handed in some extremely dubious practices, and seem to have little sense of how their actions might not be the best in terms of protecting their reputation. We are guessing that the European regulators will become very interested in this case, and that meanwhile the order books of a company which puts DRM in its trains will start to look very empty indeed. You can catch our original coverage as the story broke, here.

Thanks [JohnU] for the tip.

The Latest John Deere Repair Lawsuit Now Has The Go-Ahead

Long time readers will have followed the twists and turns of the John Deere repair saga, in which the agricultural machinery manufacturer has used DRM to restrict the repair of its tractors. It may be hot stuff on the prairies, but it matters to everyone because it’s a key right-to-repair battleground. Now the company’s attempt to throw out the latest class-action lawsuit, this time in Illinois. has failed, paving the way for a meaningful challenge.

This lawsuit is special because has the aim of determining whether or not Deere conspired to drive up the cost of repair and edge out independent mechanics. It comes against a backdrop in which their promised access to repair software which we reported on back in January has failed to materialize, and this is likely to figure as an act of bad faith.

A failing of corporate culture is that the organisation can in its own eyes, never be wrong. In Deere’s case they have accrued plenty of bad publicity in the years they’ve pursued this ill-advised business model, and in case that weren’t enough they’ve alienated their core customers out on the farms to the extent that a second-hand Deere from before the DRM era has more value than its newer counterparts. Deere genuinely do make very good tractors, so for farmers loyal for generations to turn their backs on them is a very significant story indeed. One has to ask, how much bad publicity and how many lawsuits do they have to have before someone at head office in Moline figures out that DRM in tractors (or anything else for that matter) isn’t the great idea they once thought it was? Maybe this one will finally herald the moment when that happens.

Header image: Nheyob / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Deere Disease Spreads To Trains

If the right-to-repair movement has a famous story, it’s the familiar green and yellow John Deere tractor. Farmers and mechanics have done their own repairs as long as there have been tractors, but more recent Deeres have been locked down such that only Deere-authorised agents can fix them. It’s a trend that has hurt the value of a second-had Deere, but despite that it appears to be spreading within the machinery world. Now there’s a parallel on Polish railways, as Polish-made Newag electric passenger trains have been found to give errors when serviced by non-Newag workshops.

At the heart of the problem are the PLCs which control all aspects of a modern rail traction system, which thanks to a trio of Poland and Germany based researchers have been found to play a range of nasty tricks. They’ll return bogus error codes after a set date which would presumably be reset by the official service, if the train has been laid up for a while, or even if they are detected via GPS to have visited a third-party workshop. Their work will be the subject of a talk at 37C3 which should be worth watching out for.

It will be especially interesting to juxtapose the reaction to this revelation with cases such as the Deere tractors, because of course Poland is part of the European Union. We’re not specialist EU competition lawyers, but we know enough to know that the EU takes a dim view of these types of practices and has been strong on the right to repair. Who knows, Polish trains may contribute further to the rights of all Europeans.

Beating Apple’s Secret Lid Angle Sensor Calibration With Custom Tool

Among the changes made by Apple to its laptops over the years, the transition from a Hall sensor-based sleep sensor to an angle sensor that determines when the lid is closed is a decidedly unpopular one. The reason for this is the need to calibrate this sensor after replacement, using a tool that Apple decided to keep for itself. That is, until recently [Stephan Steins] created a tool which he creatively called the ‘nerd.tool.1‘. This widget can perform this calibration procedure with the press of its two buttons, as demonstrated on [Louis Rossmann]’s YouTube channel.

This new angle sensor was first introduced in late 2019, with Apple’s official reason being an increased level of ‘precision’. As each sensor has to be calibrated correctly in order to measure the magnetic field and determine the associated lid angle, this means that third-party repair shops and determined MacBook owners have to transplant the chip containing the calibration data to a replacement sensor system. Until now, that is. Although the nerd.tool.1 is somewhat pricey at €169 ($179 USD), for a third-party MacBook repair shop this would seem to be a steal.

It is however unfortunate that Apple persists in such anti-repair methods, with recently [Hugh Jeffreys] also calling Apple out on this during a MacBook Pro M1/M2 teardown video. During this teardown [Hugh] came across this angle sensor issue by swapping parts between two otherwise identical MacBook Pros, indicating just how annoying this need to calibrate one tiny lid angle sensor is.

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