Remoticon Video: The Mechanics of Finite Element Analysis

Hardware hacking can be extremely multidisciplinary. If you only know bits and bytes, but not solder and electrons, you’re limited in what you can build. The same is true for mechanical design, where the forces of stress and strain suddenly apply to your project and the pile of code and PCBs comes crashing to the ground.

In the first half of his workshop, Naman Pushp walks you through some of the important first concepts in mechanical engineering — how to think about the forces in the world that act on physical objects. And he brings along a great range of home-built Jugaad props that include a gravity-defying tensegrity string sculpture and some fancy origami that help hammer the topics home.

In the second half of the workshop, Naman takes these concepts into computer simulation, and gives us good insight into the way that finite-element analysis simulation packages model these same forces on tiny chunks of your project’s geometry to see if it’ll hold up under real world load. The software he uses isn’t free by any definition — it’s not even cheap unless you have a student license — but it’s nonetheless illuminating to watch him work through the flow of roughly designing an object, putting simulated stresses and strains on it, and interpreting the results. If you’ve never used FEA tools before, or are looking for a compressed introduction to first-semester mechanical engineering, this talk might be right up your alley.

Naman is a hacker and student who is currently working on a ridiculously inexpensive laptop-in-a-box for the Indian market, and a drone delivery startup. We’re sure we’ll be hearing more from him in the future.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/31/remoticon-video-the-mechanics-of-finite-element-analysis/

This Week in Security: Deeper Dive Into SolarWinds, Bouncy Castle, and Docker Images

Merry Christmas and happy holidays! I took Christmas day off from writing the security roundup, coming in a day early with this week’s installment, dodging New year’s day. The SolarWinds story has continued to dominate the news, so lets dive into it a bit deeper.

Microsoft has published their analysis of Solorigate, and the details are interesting. The added code was carefully written to blend in with the rest of the code, using the name OrionImprovementBusinessLayer.Initialize, which sounds like a perfectly boring-yet-legitimate function. The actual backdoor is obfuscated using zip compression and base64 encoding.

Once this bootstrap code begins, it runs a series of checks before actually doing anything malicious. It waits 2 weeks after installation to do anything, and then checks the system domain name for any indication it’s running in a test environment. It then checks for certain security applications, like Wireshark, and refuses to run if they are detected. This series of checks all seem to be an effort to avoid detection, and to only run in a deployed environment. Even the Command and Control URL that the backdoor uses is constructed to appear benign. Beyond this, it seems that the malware simply waited for instructions, and didn’t take any automated actions. All the attacks were performed manually.

One of the side-effects of the sudden attention given to SolarWinds devices is that a whole slew of other problems will be found and fixed, like CVE-2020-10148, an authentication bypass. The most surprising finding, however, is a *second* backdoor in the SolarWinds code, nicknamed Supernova. It’s possible that this was an earlier backdoor from the same actors as Solarigate, but the current theory is that it’s a backdoor installed by yet another, unrelated attacker.

Pi-hole Logs Vulnerability

If you have a Raspberry Pi running the Pi-hole software, you might want to patch a newly discovered vulnerability in the administrative interface. The issue, CVE-2020-35659, is a cross site scripting vulnerability, where viewing the logfile could allow arbitrary JS to run. The payload is JS embedded in a DNS name, which gets triggered by the log view. While it takes user interaction to view the log file, it’s frighteningly easy to get the malicious DNS request in the log. All it takes is a single resource request in any website visited by any device on the network. The PoC hasn’t been published yet, to give everyone time to update. This isn’t a sophisticated attack, so once the rest of the details are released, it should be easy to adapt the sample for real-world attacks. That said, it’s unclear how useful it is to be able to run arbitrary JS in the context of a Pi-hole.

Bouncy Castle Bypass Bug

“Don’t roll your own encryption” is still a worthy principle, but it doesn’t mean that well-known implementations can’t have problems. In this case, Bouncy Castle’s Java implementation has a coding mistake in the OpenBSDBcrypt routines. doCheckPassword is the vulnerable function, and it has a particular problem. So first, know that this routine compares Unix password hashes, which are base64 encoded, in the form of $y$j9T$fUtLoMA0qexwXogYTTY0K.$/jkWehjtTOASsLbYP5CVBxIiEY903Mukb7wtjjpIx4A. Now, take a look at the vulnerable Java code, and see if you see the problem:

boolean isEqual = sLength == newBcryptString.length();
for (int i = 0; i != sLength; i++)
{
    isEqual &= (bcryptString.indexOf(i) == newBcryptString.indexOf(i));
}
return isEqual;

Java isn’t my “first” programming language, but this isn’t particularly hard code to understand, so let’s walk through it. The first line declares the boolean variable isEqual, which serves as a state storage for the loop. This will always return true, because earlier code, not shown here, already checks for a length of 60. The meat of this snippet is the for loop, which iterates from 0 to 59. The problem is the use of indexOf(i). The programmer apparently thought this method would return the character at index i, comparing the two strings one character at a time. The problem is that indexOf actually does a search for the specified character, and returns the location where it was first found, or -1 if it doesn’t exist. When there is a single integer parameter given to this method, it indicates the character to search for — as a unicode value.

So the above snippet is actually comparing the location of unicode 0 (U+0000) in the two strings, and then comparing the location of unicode 1 (U+0001), through Unicode 59 (U+0059). Unicode is a descendent of ASCII, and inherits its first 128 characters directly from ASCII. Hence, characters 0 through 31 are control codes that will never be part of a password hash. Characters 32-35, 37-45, and 58 and 59 are all symbols that will never be part of the string. 36 is the “$” character, and while that character does appear in the compared strings, it will always be in the same position, as Unix password hashes use it as a separator symbol. Thus, the set of characters that this broken implementation actually checks are the period, the slash, and 0-9. And even then, only the first appearance of each are checked. Since “2” is part of the string indicating that the hash is using bcrypt, it’s also effectively ignored, as indexOf() only returns the *first* location a character is found. That leaves us only 11 out of 64 characters that are actually checked, and only their first appearance.

Researchers at Synopsys discovered this bug back in October. In their testing, they determined that every password that used Bouncy Castle’s broken bcrypt implementation was vulnerable to attack. They estimate that about 20% of such hashes can be bypassed in under 1000 guesses. Version 1.67 was released in November, addressing the issue. Ironically, the vulnerability was introduced in a set of changes adding constant-time comparisons. Not only is the code broken as discussed, it’s also not time-constant. It took almost an entire year for someone to notice the problem, because the function *almost* does the right thing.

This and That

Threatnix reports on a new phishing campaign, primarily targeting Facebook credentials. This particular story is interesting because it’s the first time I remember GitHub pages being used to host such a campaign. A bit of sleuthing let the researchers download the list of phished credentials, totalling over 600k.

Friends don’t let friends run untrusted Docker images, at least according to Prevasio. Researchers there put together a process to test all four million images on Docker Hub for problems. The results shouldn’t be surprising. About half of those images contain known vulnerabilities. Over 6,000 of those images tested were classified as malicious or “potentially harmful”.

Possibly related to Solarigate, The US’s CISA has published Sparrow, a tool for detecting compromised Azure infrastructure. Because it was written by government employees, the code is in the public domain.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/31/this-week-in-security-deeper-dive-into-solarwinds-bouncy-castle-and-docker-images/

A Novel Micro Desktop Display For Your Raspberry Pi

Since its debut back in 2012 there have been a variety of inventive displays used with the Raspberry Pi. Perhaps you remember the repurposed Motorola phone docks, or you have one of those little displays that plugs into the expansion port. Inevitably the smaller options become disappointing as desktop displays, because while the advert triumphantly shows them sporting a Raspberry Pi OS desktop the reality is almost unusable. Until now.

Along comes [igbit] with a solution in the form of a little SPI display with a different approach to displaying a desktop. Instead of displaying a matchbox-sized desktop over the whole screen it divides into two halves. At the top is a representation of the desktop, while below it is a close-up on the area around the mouse pointer.

Unexpectedly its mode of operation is very accessible to the non-Linux guru, because it works through a Python script that takes screenshots of both areas and passes them as a composite to the display. An area the size of the magnified window is drawn around the mouse pointer, allowing it to be easily located on the tiny desktop. It relies on the main display being pushed to the HDMI output, so if the Pi is otherwise headless then its configuration has to be such that it forces HDMI use. The result isn’t something that would help you with the more demanding desktop tasks, but it provides a neat solution to being able to use a Pi desktop on a tiny screen.

Of course, in a pinch you can always use your mobile phone.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/31/a-novel-micro-desktop-display-for-your-raspberry-pi/

Augmented Reality On The Cheap With ESP32

Augmented reality (AR) technology hasn’t enjoyed the same amount of attention as VR, and seriously lags in terms of open source development and accessibility.  Frustrated by this, [Arnaud Atchimon] created CheApR, an open source, low cost AR headset that anyone can build at home and use as a platform for further development

[Arnaud] was impressed by the Tilt Five AR goggles, but the price of this cutting edge hardware simply put it out of reach of most people. Instead, he designed and built his own around a 3D printed frame, ESP32, cheap LCDs, and lenses from a pair of sunglasses. The electronics is packed horizontally in the top of the frame, with the displays pointed down into a pair of angled mirrors, which reflect the image onto the sunglasses lenses and into the user’s eyes. [Arnaud] tested a number of different lenses and found that a thin lens with a slight curve worked best. The ESP32 doesn’t actually run the main software, it just handles displaying the images on the LCDs. The images are sent from a computer running software written in Processing. Besides just displaying images, the software can also integrate inputs from a MPU6050 IMU and  ESP32 camera module mounted on the goggles. This allows the images to shift perspective as the goggles move, and recognize faces and AR markers in the environment.

All the design files and software is available on GitHub, and we exited to see where this project goes. We’ve seen another pair of affordable augmented reality glasses that uses a smartphone as a display, but it seems the headset that was used are no longer available.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/31/augmented-reality-on-the-cheap-with-esp32/

LEDs-On-Chips Will Give Us Lower Cost Optoelectronics

The LED is one of those fundamental building block components in electronics, something that’s been in the parts bin for decades. But while a simple LED costs pennies, that WS2812 or other fancy device is a bit expensive because internally it’s a hybrid of a silicon controller chip and several LEDs made from other semiconductor elements. Incorporating an LED on the same chip as its controller has remained something of a Holy Grail, and now an MIT team appear to have cracked it by demonstrating a CMOS device that integrates a practical silicon LED. It may not yet be ready for market but it already displays some interesting properties such as a very fast switching speed. Perhaps more importantly, further integration of what have traditionally been discrete components would have a huge impact on reducing manufacturing costs.

Anyone who has read up on the early history of LEDs will know that the path from the early-20th-century discoveries of semiconductor luminescence through the early commercial devices of the 1960s and up to the bright multi-hued devices of today has been a long one with many stages of the technology reaching the market. Thus these early experimental silicon LEDs produce light in the infrared spectrum often useful in producing sensors. Whether we’ll see an all-silicon Neopixel any time soon remains to be seen, but we can imagine that some sensors using LEDs could be incorporated on the same die as a microcontroller. It seems there’s plenty of potential for this invention.

This research was presented earlier this month at the IEDM Conference in a talk entitled Low Voltage, High Brightness CMOS LEDs. We were not able to find a published paper, we’d love read deeper so let us know in the comments below if you have info on when this will become available. In the meantime, anyone with any interest in LED technology should read about Oleg Losev, the inventor of the first practical LEDs.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/30/leds-on-chips-will-give-us-lower-cost-optoelectronics/

Magnetocuring: Curing Epoxy With A Magnetic Field

Who doesn’t love epoxy? Epoxy resins, also known as polyepoxides, are an essential adhesive in many applications, both industrially and at smaller scales. Many polyepoxides however require the application of heat (around 150 °C for most types) in order to cure (harden), which can be complicated when the resin is applied to or inside layers of temperature sensitive materials. Now researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have found a way to heat up resins using an alternating magnetic field (PDF), so-called magnetocuring.

As detailed in the research article by R. Chaudhary et al., they used commercially available epoxy resin and added nano particles of a MnxZn1-xFe2O4 alloy. This mixture was exposed to an alternating magnetic field to induce currents in the nano particles and subsequently produce heat that served to raise the temperature of the surrounding resin to about 160 °C in five minutes, allowing the resin to cure. There is no risk of overheating, as the nano particles are engineered to reach their Curie temperature, at which point the magnetic field no longer affects them. The exact Curie temperature was tweaked by changing the amount of manganese and zinc in the alloy.

After trying out a number of different alloy formulations, they settled on Mn0.7Zn0.3Fe2O4 as the optimal formulation at which no resin scorching occurred. As with all research it’s hard to tell when (and if) it will make it into commercial applications, but if this type of technology works out we could soon be gluing parts together using epoxy resin and an EM field instead of fumbling with the joys of two-component epoxy.

(Thanks, Qes)

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/30/magnetocuring-curing-epoxy-with-a-magnetic-field/

Unbricking A SEGGER J-Link v9 Debug Probe

Last year [Emil] found themselves in the situation where a SEGGER J-link debug probe suddenly just stopped working. This was awkward not only because in-circuit debuggers are vital pieces of equipment in embedded firmware development, but also because they’re not that cheap. This led [Emil] to take the device apart to figure out what was wrong with it.

After checking voltages on the PCB, nothing obvious seemed wrong. The Tag-Connect style JTAG header on the PCB appeared to be a good second stop, requiring only a bit of work to reverse-engineer the exact pinout and hook up an ST-Link V2 in-circuit debugger to talk with the STM32F205RC MCU on the PCB. This led to the interesting discovery that apparently the MCU’s Flash ROM had seemingly lost the firmware data.

Fortunately [Emil] was able to flash back a version of the firmware which was available on the internet, allowing the J-Link device to work again. This was not the end of the story, however, as after this the SEGGER software was unable to update the firmware on the device, due to a missing bootloader that was not part of the firmware image.

Digging further into this, [Emil] found out a whole host of fascinating details about not only these SEGGER J-Link devices, but also the many clones that are out there, as well as the interesting ways that SEGGER makes people buy new versions of their debug probes.

(Thanks Zelea for the tip)

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/30/unbricking-a-segger-j-link-v9-debug-probe/

Alien Inspired Cyberdeck Packs Vintage Atari 800XL

Sticking a Raspberry Pi in a Pelican-style case and calling it a cyberdeck has become something of a meme these days, and while we certainly don’t look down on such projects, we recognize they can get a bit repetitive. But we think this one is unique enough to get a pass. Sure [eizen6] mounted a Pi inside of a rugged waterproof case, but it’s simply serving as a display for the real star of the show: a vintage Atari 800XL computer.

The overall look of the build, from the stenciled Nostromo on the back to the self-destruct warning sticker over the display is a reference to Alien. Partly because both the film and the Atari 800 were released in 1979, but also because [eizen6] says this particular aesthetic is simply the way computers should look. The visual style is also meant to signify that the project embraces the old ways despite the sprinkling of modern technology.

A custom cable lets the 800XL run on USB power.

To that end, retro aficionados will be happy to hear that the Atari appears to be completely unmodified, with [eizen6] going as far as nestling the nearly 40 year old computer in foam rather than permanently mounting it to the case. The various cables for power, video, and data have all been terminated with the appropriate connectors as well, so everything can be easily unplugged should the 8-bit machine need to be returned to more pedestrian use.

In the top half of the case, [eizen6] has mounted the Raspberry Pi 3B+, a seven inch touch screen, a USB hub, and a SIO2SD that allows loading Atari disk images from an SD card. Using a USB capture device, video from the Atari can be shown on the Pi’s display with a simple VLC command. With a USB keyboard plugged into the hub, the Pi can be put to more advanced use should the need arise. It’s also worth noting that, thanks to a custom cable, the Atari is running off of a USB power bank. With a second USB power bank dedicated to running the Pi and its LCD display, this retro cyberdeck is fully mobile.

We’ve seen plenty of modern builds that try and recapture the look and feel of retro computers, but very few that actually integrate the genuine article.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/30/alien-inspired-cyberdeck-packs-vintage-atari-800xl/

Solar Flares and Radio Communications — How Precarious are Our Electronics?

On November 8th, 2020 the Sun exploded. Well, that’s a bit dramatic (it explodes a lot) — but a particularly large sunspot named AR2781 produced a C5-class solar flare which is a medium-sized explosion even for the Sun. Flares range from A, B, C, M, and X with a zero to nine scale in each category (or even higher for giant X flares). So a C5 is just about dead center of the scale. You might not have noticed, but if you lived in Australia or around the Indian Ocean and you were using radio frequencies below 10 MHz, you would have noticed since the flare caused a 20-minute-long radio blackout at those frequencies.

According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the sunspot has the energy to produce M-class flares which are an order of magnitude more powerful. NOAA also has a scale for radio disruptions ranging from R1 (an M1 flare) to R5 (an X20 flare). The sunspot in question is facing Earth for the moment, so any new flares will cause more problems. That led us to ask ourselves: What if there were a major radio disruption?

Sol Versus Ionospheric Propagation

This happens more often than you might think. In October, AR2775 set off two C flares and while plasma from the flare didn’t hit Earth, UV radiation caused a brief radio outage over South America. The X-ray and UV radiation travel at the same speed as light, so by the time we see a flare, it is too late to do anything about it, even if we could.

The effects are mostly related to the propagation of radio waves via the ionosphere. In the 1700s, who would care? In the mid 20th century, though, lots of things relied on this property of high-frequency radio waves. Today, it might not matter nearly as much.

If you own a shortwave radio, you may have noticed there isn’t as much to listen to broadcast-wise as there was decades ago. Broadcasters that want to reach an international audience use the Internet to do that now unless they are targeting a part of the world where Internet is rare or restricted. Even the AM radio band isn’t the mainstay it used to be. Many people listen to FM (which propagates differently), satellite radio, or they stream audio from the Internet. Sure, that uses radio, but not ionosphere propagation.

Intercontinental Transit

Perhaps the biggest commercial users of the radio bands now are transoceanic aviation and ships at sea, but even then, many of those uses are now using satellites and much higher frequencies. Ham radio operators are still there, of course, as are some time and frequency standard stations like WWV. While there were some radio frequency navigation systems like LORAN and Gee, these are nearly all gone in favor of GPS.

Would a disruption of these services be a big deal? Probably not, although if you are on a plane or at sea, you might get a little tense. Then again, it just depends on how important that radio device is to you and how many alternatives you have.

Then again, truly big events — so-called Carrington events — can affect a lot of electronics directly. The insurance industry thinks it could run up to $2.6 trillion in damages. Worried? Maybe keep an eye on the space weather channel. If you are interested in what the United States government would do if we had another Carrington-level event, they have it all written out. Honestly, though, the plan seems to be, in summary, do better forecasts and develop new technology. FEMA has an info-graphic that asserts that a solar flare could affect your toilet, although it seems like it would take quite a while for that to happen. It is a bit more interesting to read their excellent but unreleased memo on the topic. The maps on page 16 and 17 showing where the power grid is vulnerable to geomagnetic storms is particularly interesting.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/30/solar-flares-and-radio-communications-how-precarious-are-our-electronics/

Solar Flares and Radio Communications — How Precarious are Our Electronics?

On November 8th, 2020 the Sun exploded. Well, that’s a bit dramatic (it explodes a lot) — but a particularly large sunspot named AR2781 produced a C5-class solar flare which is a medium-sized explosion even for the Sun. Flares range from A, B, C, M, and X with a zero to nine scale in each category (or even higher for giant X flares). So a C5 is just about dead center of the scale. You might not have noticed, but if you lived in Australia or around the Indian Ocean and you were using radio frequencies below 10 MHz, you would have noticed since the flare caused a 20-minute-long radio blackout at those frequencies.

According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the sunspot has the energy to produce M-class flares which are an order of magnitude more powerful. NOAA also has a scale for radio disruptions ranging from R1 (an M1 flare) to R5 (an X20 flare). The sunspot in question is facing Earth for the moment, so any new flares will cause more problems. That led us to ask ourselves: What if there were a major radio disruption?

Sol Versus Ionospheric Propagation

This happens more often than you might think. In October, AR2775 set off two C flares and while plasma from the flare didn’t hit Earth, UV radiation caused a brief radio outage over South America. The X-ray and UV radiation travel at the same speed as light, so by the time we see a flare, it is too late to do anything about it, even if we could.

The effects are mostly related to the propagation of radio waves via the ionosphere. In the 1700s, who would care? In the mid 20th century, though, lots of things relied on this property of high-frequency radio waves. Today, it might not matter nearly as much.

If you own a shortwave radio, you may have noticed there isn’t as much to listen to broadcast-wise as there was decades ago. Broadcasters that want to reach an international audience use the Internet to do that now unless they are targeting a part of the world where Internet is rare or restricted. Even the AM radio band isn’t the mainstay it used to be. Many people listen to FM (which propagates differently), satellite radio, or they stream audio from the Internet. Sure, that uses radio, but not ionosphere propagation.

Intercontinental Transit

Perhaps the biggest commercial users of the radio bands now are transoceanic aviation and ships at sea, but even then, many of those uses are now using satellites and much higher frequencies. Ham radio operators are still there, of course, as are some time and frequency standard stations like WWV. While there were some radio frequency navigation systems like LORAN and Gee, these are nearly all gone in favor of GPS.

Would a disruption of these services be a big deal? Probably not, although if you are on a plane or at sea, you might get a little tense. Then again, it just depends on how important that radio device is to you and how many alternatives you have.

Then again, truly big events — so-called Carrington events — can affect a lot of electronics directly. The insurance industry thinks it could run up to $2.6 trillion in damages. Worried? Maybe keep an eye on the space weather channel. If you are interested in what the United States government would do if we had another Carrington-level event, they have it all written out. Honestly, though, the plan seems to be, in summary, do better forecasts and develop new technology. FEMA has an info-graphic that asserts that a solar flare could affect your toilet, although it seems like it would take quite a while for that to happen. It is a bit more interesting to read their excellent but unreleased memo on the topic. The maps on page 16 and 17 showing where the power grid is vulnerable to geomagnetic storms is particularly interesting.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/30/solar-flares-and-radio-communications-how-precarious-are-our-electronics/

Solar Flares and Radio Communications — How Precarious are Our Electronics?

On November 8th, 2020 the Sun exploded. Well, that’s a bit dramatic (it explodes a lot) — but a particularly large sunspot named AR2781 produced a C5-class solar flare which is a medium-sized explosion even for the Sun. Flares range from A, B, C, M, and X with a zero to nine scale in each category (or even higher for giant X flares). So a C5 is just about dead center of the scale. You might not have noticed, but if you lived in Australia or around the Indian Ocean and you were using radio frequencies below 10 MHz, you would have noticed since the flare caused a 20-minute-long radio blackout at those frequencies.

According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the sunspot has the energy to produce M-class flares which are an order of magnitude more powerful. NOAA also has a scale for radio disruptions ranging from R1 (an M1 flare) to R5 (an X20 flare). The sunspot in question is facing Earth for the moment, so any new flares will cause more problems. That led us to ask ourselves: What if there were a major radio disruption?

Sol Versus Ionospheric Propagation

This happens more often than you might think. In October, AR2775 set off two C flares and while plasma from the flare didn’t hit Earth, UV radiation caused a brief radio outage over South America. The X-ray and UV radiation travel at the same speed as light, so by the time we see a flare, it is too late to do anything about it, even if we could.

The effects are mostly related to the propagation of radio waves via the ionosphere. In the 1700s, who would care? In the mid 20th century, though, lots of things relied on this property of high-frequency radio waves. Today, it might not matter nearly as much.

If you own a shortwave radio, you may have noticed there isn’t as much to listen to broadcast-wise as there was decades ago. Broadcasters that want to reach an international audience use the Internet to do that now unless they are targeting a part of the world where Internet is rare or restricted. Even the AM radio band isn’t the mainstay it used to be. Many people listen to FM (which propagates differently), satellite radio, or they stream audio from the Internet. Sure, that uses radio, but not ionosphere propagation.

Intercontinental Transit

Perhaps the biggest commercial users of the radio bands now are transoceanic aviation and ships at sea, but even then, many of those uses are now using satellites and much higher frequencies. Ham radio operators are still there, of course, as are some time and frequency standard stations like WWV. While there were some radio frequency navigation systems like LORAN and Gee, these are nearly all gone in favor of GPS.

Would a disruption of these services be a big deal? Probably not, although if you are on a plane or at sea, you might get a little tense. Then again, it just depends on how important that radio device is to you and how many alternatives you have.

Then again, truly big events — so-called Carrington events — can affect a lot of electronics directly. The insurance industry thinks it could run up to $2.6 trillion in damages. Worried? Maybe keep an eye on the space weather channel. If you are interested in what the United States government would do if we had another Carrington-level event, they have it all written out. Honestly, though, the plan seems to be, in summary, do better forecasts and develop new technology. FEMA has an info-graphic that asserts that a solar flare could affect your toilet, although it seems like it would take quite a while for that to happen. It is a bit more interesting to read their excellent but unreleased memo on the topic. The maps on page 16 and 17 showing where the power grid is vulnerable to geomagnetic storms is particularly interesting.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/30/solar-flares-and-radio-communications-how-precarious-are-our-electronics/

Improve ATtiny Timing Accuracy With This Clock Calibrator

The smaller ATtiny microcontrollers have a limited number of pins, and therefore rely on an internal 9.6 MHz oscillator rather than an external crystal. This oscillator lacks the accuracy of a crystal so individual chips can vary over a significant tolerance from the nominal figure. Happily the resulting timing inaccuracies can be mitigated through a calibration process, and [Stefan Wagner] has incorporated this into his Tiny Calibrator. In addition, it also has the required charge pump circuitry to reset the internal fuses to rescue “bricked” ATtinys, thus allowing those little mistakes to be salvaged.

The board has its own larger ATtiny with a crystal oscillator and an OLED screen, allowing it to measure that of the test ATtiny and generate a correction factor which it applies to the chip. This process is repeated until there is the smallest possible difference from the standard. You can find the files for the hardware on EasyEDA, and the software in a GitHub repository.

It’s important to state that the result will never be as stable as a crystal so you’d be well advised not to put too much trust in those timers, but at least they won’t be as far off the mark as when shipped. All in all this is a handy board to have at hand should you be developing for the smaller ATtiny chips.

Be careful when chasing clock accuracy — it can lead you down a rabbit hole.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/30/improve-attiny-timing-accuracy-with-this-clock-calibrator/

Amiga Now Includes HDMI By Way of a Raspberry Pi Daughterboard

If you had an Amiga during the 16-bit home computer era it’s possible that alongside the games and a bit of audio sampling you had selected it because of its impressive video capabilities. In its heyday the Amiga produced broadcast-quality graphics that could even be seen on more than a few TV shows from the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s fair to say though that the world of TV has moved on since the era of Guru Meditation, and an SD video signal just won’t cut it anymore. With HDMI as today’s connectivity standard, [c0pperdragon] is here to help by way of a handy HDMI upgrade that taps into the digital signals direct from the Amiga’s Denise chip.

At first thought one might imagine that an FPGA would be involved, however instead the signals are brought out via a daughterboard to the expansion header of a Raspberry Pi Zero. Just remove the DENISE display encoder chip and pop in the board with uses a long-pinned machined DIP socket to make the connections. The Pi runs software from the RGBtoHDMI project originally created with the BBC Micro in mind, to render pixel-perfect representations of the Amiga graphics on the Pi’s HDMI output. The caveat is that it runs on the original chipset Amigas and only some models with the enhanced chipset, so it seems Amiga 600 owners are left in the cold. A very low latency is claimed, which should compare favourably with some other solutions to the same problem.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an HDMI Amiga conversion, but it’s one that’s usable on more than simply the big-box machines.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/30/amiga-now-includes-hdmi-by-way-of-a-raspberry-pi-daughterboard/

More 3D Printed IKEA Hacks Make Life Better

There’s an old joke that the CEO of IKEA is running to be Prime Minister of Sweden. He says he’ll be able to put together his cabinet in no time. We don’t speak Swedish, but [Adam Miklosi] tells us that the word “uppgradera” means “upgrade” in Swedish. His website, uppgradera.co has several IKEA upgrade designs you can 3D print.

There are currently six designs that all appear to be simple prints that have some real value. These are all meant to attach to some IKEA product and solve some consumer problem.

For example, the KL01 is a cup holder with a clip that snaps into the groove of a KLIPSK bed tray. Without it, apparently, your coffee mug will tend to slide around the surface of the tray. The CH01 adds a ring around a cheese grater. There are drains for a soap dish and a toothbrush holder, shoulder pads for coat hangers, and a lampshade.

We worry a little about the safety of the cheese grater and the toothbrush because you will presumably put the cheese and the toothbrush into your mouth. Food safe 3D printing is not trivial. However, the other ones look handy enough, and we know a lot of people feel that PLA is safe enough for things that don’t make a lot of contact with food.

Honestly, none of these are going to change your life, but they are great examples of how simple things you can 3D print can make products better. People new to 3D printing often seem to have unrealistic expectations about what they can print and are disappointed that they can’t easily print a complete robot or whatever. However, these examples show that even simple designs that are easily printed can be quite useful.

If you don’t have a printer, it looks like as though site will also sell you the pieces and they aren’t terribly expensive. We don’t know why IKEA invites so many hacks, but even they provide 3D printer files to improve the accessibility of some products.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/29/more-3d-printed-ikea-hacks-make-life-better/

High Tech Photos Capture Snowflakes Like Never Before

Microscopy used to be a rarity in the hobby electronics world. But anyone doing lab work has always needed a microscope and with today’s tiny parts, it is almost a necessity. However, [Nathan Myhrvold] didn’t use an ordinary microscope to capture some beautiful snowflake pictures. According to [My Modern Met], the pictures are the highest resolution snowflake pictures ever taken.

Of course, the site is more interested in the visual aspect of it, but they did provide some clues about the tech behind the pictures. According to the site:

Myhrvold used a special camera of his own design. He combined the magnifying power of a microscopic lens.. with a specially designed optical path. This path allowed the lens to channel its image to a medium-format digital sensor… In addition, the camera featured a cooling stage upon which the tiny specimens could rest. With LED short-pulse lights and a shutter speed of less than 500 microseconds, Myhrvold was able to capture multiple images of each snowflake at different focal lengths. These images were then stacked to create the final image.

As you might expect, [Myhrvold] isn’t a weekend photographer. He holds a PhD in Physics and did post doc work with Stephen Hawking at Cambridge. He was Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer for a time and then founded a company merging cooking and photography, where these are available as prints.

According to the post’s interview with [Myhrvold], it took 18 months to design and build the camera. It helped to take the pictures on location where it was quite cold. You’d think colder would be better, but apparently there is a sweet spot where the snowflakes don’t clump together nor do they dry out. Also using the cooling stage and pulsed LEDs help in not melting the snowflake before the picture completes.

We wonder what photograph or microphotograph rigs you’ve built? Most of the microscope hacks we see are a little less involved. Hooking up a camera is a common affair, but we haven’t seen refrigeration and light modulation before.

Photo Credit: Ice Queen by [Nathan Myhrvold]

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/29/high-tech-photos-capture-snowflakes-like-never-before/

Federal Aviation Administration Announces Major Drone Rule Changes

If new rules from the FAA regarding unmanned aircraft operations in the US are any indication, drones are becoming less of a niche hobby and more integrated into everyday life. Of course, the devil is in the details, and what the Federal Aviation Administration appears to give with one hand, it takes away with the other.

The rule changes, announced on December 28, are billed as “advanc[ing] safety and innovation” of the drone industry in the United States. The exciting part, and the aspect that garnered the most attention with headline writers, is the relaxation of rules against night operation and operating above people and moving vehicles. Since 2016, it has been against FAA regulations to operate drones less than 55 pounds (25 kg) at night or over people without a waiver. This rule can be seen as stifling innovations in drone delivery, since any useful delivery service will likely need to overfly populated areas and roadways and probably do so at night. The new rules allow these operations without a waiver for four categories of drones, classified by how much damage they would do if they were to lose control and hit someone. The rules also define the inspection and certification regimes for both aircraft and pilot, as well as stipulating that operators have to have their certificate and ID on their person while flying.

While this seems like great news, the flip side of the coin is perhaps less shiny. The rule changes also impose the requirement for “Remote ID” (PDF link), which is said to be “a major step toward full integration of drones into the national airspace system.” Certain drones will be required to carry a system that transmits identification messages directly from the aircraft, including such data as serial number, location and speed of the drone, as well as the location of the operator. The rules speculate that this would likely be done over WiFi or Bluetooth, and would need to be receivable with personal wireless devices. The exact technical implementation of these rules is left as an exercise to manufacturers, who have 30 months from the time the rules go into effect in January to design systems, submit them for certification, and get them built into their aircraft. Drone operators have an additional year to actually start using the Remote ID drones.

For the drone community, these rule changes seem like a mixed bag. To be fair, it’s not exactly unexpected that drones would be radio tagged like this, and the lead time allowed by the FAA for compliance on Remote ID seems generous. The ability to operate in riskier environments will no doubt be welcomed by commercial drone operators. So who knows — maybe the rules will do what they say they will, and this will stimulate a little innovation in the industry. If so, it could make this whole thing a net positive.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/29/federal-aviation-administration-announces-major-drone-rule-changes/

Magnetic Motorized Plasma Cutter Track

Affordable plasma cutters are becoming a popular step up from an angle grinder for cutting sheet metal in the home workshop, but cutting long straight lines can be laborious and less than accurate. [Workshop From Scratch] was faced with this problem, so he built a motorized magnetic track for his plasma cutter.

Thanks to a pair of repurposed electromagnetic door looks and adjustable base width, the track can be mounted on any piece of magnetic steel. The track itself consists of a pair of linear rods, with the torch mounts sliding along on linear bearings. A lead screw sits between the two linear rods, and is powered by an old cordless drill with the handle cut off. Its trigger switch was replaced by a speed controller and two-way switch for direction control, and a power supply took the place of the battery. The mounting bracket for the plasma torch is adjustable, allowing the edge of the steel to be cut at an angle if required.

While limit switches on the end of the track might be a preferable option to prevent sliding base to hit the ends of the tracks, the clutch in the electric drill should be good enough to prevent damage if the operator is distracted.

[Workshop From Scratch] is really living up to the name of his YouTube channel, having built many of the other tools used in the video himself. Just a few examples are the XY-table, hydraulic adjustable workbench and  hydraulic shop crane.

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source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/29/magnetic-motorized-plasma-cutter-track/

Remoticon Video: From Zero to ASIC; How to Design in Silicon

Designing your own integrated circuits as a one-person operation from your home workshop sounds like science fiction. But 20 years ago, so did rolling your own circuit boards to host a 600 MHz microcontroller with firmware you wrote yourself. Turns out silicon design isn’t nearly as out of reach as it used to be and Matt Venn shows us the ropes in his Zero to ASIC workshop.

Held during the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon, this is a guided tour of the tools used in the Skywater PDK — the Process Design Kit that is an open-source ASIC toolkit produced in a partnership between Google and SkyWater Technology. We covered the news when first announced back in June, but this the most comprehensive look we’ve seen into the actual design process.

Drawing N-channel MOSFET in silicon

Matt builds up the demo starting from the very simple design of an N-channel MOSFET with click-and-drag tools similar to graphics editing software. The good news it that although you can draw your own structures like this, for digital designs you won’t have to. A wide variety of IP has been contributed to the open source project allowing basic building blocks to be pulled in using HDL. However, the power of drawing structures will certainly be the playground for those needing analog design as part of their projects.

As with EDA software used for circuit boards, the PDK includes design rule checks to ensure you aren’t violating the limits of the 130 nm chip fab. There’s some other black magic in there too, as Matt specifically mentions an antenna rules check to safeguard your design from being fried by induced current on “large” (microscopically so) metalized runs during the fabrication process.

Part of a massive logic flow chart for an IC counter design

The current workflow involves grinding through a large number of configuration files, something Matt admits took him a long time to wrap his head around. However, what’s available for proofing your design is very impressing. He demonstrates SPICE simulation to calculate timings, and shows numerous examples of verification drawings generated by the compilation process, either in the form of seeing the structures as they will be laid out, or as logical flow charts. This is crucial as a single run will take 2-3 months to come back from fab — you want to get things right before buttoning up the project. Incidentally, that’s know as “tapeout”, a term you’ve likely heard before and he says it comes from reels of magnetic tape containing the design being removed from the computer and sent to production. Who knew?

But wait, there’s more to this than just designing the things. Part of the intrigue of the Skywater-PDK project is that Google bought into covering a group run about once per quarter so that open-source designs can be ganged onto a multi-project wafer free of charge to the people submitting them. That’s pretty awesome and we’re giddy to hear news of people getting their wafer-level chip scale devices — also known as flip chips — back for testing. Matt is planning a more in-depth paid course on the topic. For now, get a taste of what’s involved from this excellent workshop found after the break.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/29/remoticon-video-from-zero-to-asic-how-to-design-in-silicon/

New Part Day: SD NAND are Surface Mount Chips That Work Like An SD Card

SD cards have long been a favorite with microcontroller hobbyists. Cheap, readily available, and easily interfaced, they remain a staple for small projects that need to store a lot of data. Now, they’re available in chip form! These are known as SD NAND parts that emulate the SD card interface itself.

[LadyAda] recently gave them a test-drive after spotting a tweet from [Greg Davill] (who we’re familiar with thanks to his excellent LED cubes). The devices are manufactured by XTX Technology and available from LCSC in a range of 1, 2, 4, and 8 GB sizes. [Ivan Grokhotkov] also illuminated a similar device from another maker in a reply to [Greg’s] original tweet, so there may be more sources out there.

These chips come in standard LGA8 surface mount package and can be easily soldered to a board, offering mechanical and manufacturing benefits versus using a normal SD or microSD card in a slot-type connector. Also, unlike other SMD flash memory parts, they handle all the file system details and wear levelling for you! With the inflation of SD card sizes, it’s also difficult to find these on the shelf in normal cards these days.

[Adafruit] plan to have a breakout for these parts out soon with a level shifter included for ease of use. We can imagine these chips finding their way into all manner of datalogger projects, since they can be ordered with other parts and permanently soldered into a design. If you’ve got a particularly good idea where these chips would prove useful, sound off in the comments. Video after the break.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/29/new-part-day-sd-nand-are-surface-mount-chips-that-work-like-an-sd-card/

Think Your Laptop is Anemic? Try an MSDOS One

If someone gifted you a cheap laptop this holiday season, you might be a little put out by the 2GB of RAM and the 400 MHz CPU. However, you might appreciate it more once you look at [Noel’s Retro Lab’s] 4.8 Kg Amstrad PPC512 He shows it off inside and out in the video below.

Unlike a modern laptop, this oldie but goodie has a full keyboard that swings out of the main body. The space below the keyboard contains the LCD screen, which [Noel] is going to have to replace with an LCD from another unit that was in worse shape but had a good-looking screen. In this video, he gets as far as getting video output to an external monitor, but neither LCD shows any sign of life. But he’s planning more videos soon.

The MS-DOS 3.3 computer’s LCD could emulate a CGA or MDA screen but had no backlight. The 8 MHz NEC V30 processor had 512K of memory, hence the part number. There was also a similar model with 640K of memory and a (gasp) 2400 baud modem.

The power options for this laptop were a bit odd by today’s standards. The computer could use an AC adapter or a car adapter. It could also run on ten C-size batteries. There were also matching external monitors that were able to power the machine.

We’ve seen LCD transplants on this class of machine before, although that one went from monochrome to color. These may not seem very portable, but compared to the earlier “luggable” computers, they were great.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/28/think-your-laptop-is-anemic-try-an-msdos-one/

What to do during your staycation

Planning your staycation? We have some exciting ideas for you! The good news is that you can enjoy a fun and relaxing holiday at home without spending a fortune. Not only is a staycation easy on your pocket, but you’ll also avoid the crowds of people that head to popular destinations during the festive period. Browse through our leisure or community and events categories on Junk Mail to find exciting opportunities.  

Family Staycation Ideas | Junk Mail
Photo Source – www.freepik.com

How to plan your staycation 

To have the best possible staycation, take some time to plan ahead. Start by checking your finances so that you know how much you have to spend. Next, decide on what activities you want to take part in and how much each one costs. A properly planned budget ensures that you can fit in as many fun outings as possible. Look out for deals, and coupons make your money go further. 

Why you should consider a staycation 

A staycation is an opportunity to relax in the comfort of your own home while enjoying quality time with your family. You can avoid getting into debt over the festive season while still having fun. Prices skyrocket over the festive season, making accommodation and flights unaffordable for many South Africans. Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll also be avoiding the crowds of people that flock to popular tourist destinations. All the preparation, packing, and travelling that goes along with holidays can also be stressful, especially if you have kids. 

Staycation Ideas | Junk Mail
Photo Source – www.canva.com

6 staycation ideas: 

1. Explore your town 

Pretend that you’re a visitor in your own town and explore all the attractions that you’ve been meaning to visit since you moved there. We often take the sites in our own town for granted as soon as we’ve settled in. 

2. Go for a picnic 

A picnic is a fun day out for your whole family. Pack some delicious food, blankets, and refreshments before heading to a nearby park. Sporting equipment can make a great addition to your picnic. Other popular entertainment options include books and board games. Not only will you have fun outdoors, but you’ll also be spending quality time with your loved ones. 

3. Disconnect 

If you want to truly relax during your staycation, take a break from technology. Log out of your social media accounts and turn off the TV. Put your smartphone away and only use it when it’s completely necessary. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, you’ll be amazed at how relaxed you start to feel when there are no disruptions. 

4. Look for free events 

Free events are common in most towns, you just have to look out for them. You may find free community yoga in the park or a day of complimentary access to a nearby museum. You can also visit Christmas markets. Make the most of these opportunities for your family to have new experiences without spending a fortune. 

5. Movie night 

Make popcorn and enjoy a movie night in the comfort of your own home. You can even get comfy in your favourite pyjamas before you cuddle up on the couch. There are plenty of movies available on streaming services or you could borrow some DVDs. 

6. Go hiking 

Go for a hike and explore nature in the area that surrounds your town. Search online for popular trails in your area. Check the difficulty level of the route that you plan to take before you set off. There are plenty of short walks that are suitable for children if you want to take your family with you. 

Go hiking while on staycation | Junk Mail
Photo Source – www.pixabay.com

Now that you’re feeling inspired, you can plan an exciting staycation for you and your loved ones. Sit back and relax this festive season without the stress of planning a trip away. Browse through our leisure and events sections on Junk Mail for more staycation ideas.  

Twenty Seconds at 100 Megakelvins

The Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) magnetic fusion reactor claimed a new record last month — containing hydrogen plasma at 100 megakelvins for 20 seconds. For reference, the core temperature of the Earth’s Sun is a mere 15 megakelvins, although to be fair, it has been in operation quite a bit longer than 20 seconds.

South Korea is a member of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) team, a worldwide project researching the science and engineering of nuclear fusion. One of their contributions to the effort is the KSTAR facility, located in the city of Daejeon in the middle of the country (about 150 km south of Seoul).

It is a tokamak-style fusion research reactor using superconducting magnets to generate a magnetic flux density of 3.5 teslas and a plasma currents of 2 megaamperes. These conditions are used to confine and maintain the plasma in what’s called the high-confinement mode, the conditions currently favored for fusion reactor designs. Since it went into operation in 2008, it has been creating increasingly longer and hotter “pulses” of plasma.

For all the impressive numbers, the toroidal reactor itself not that huge. Its major diameter is only 3.6 meters with a minor diameter of 1 meter. What makes the facility so large is all the supporting equipment. Check out the video below — we really like the techniques they use in this virtual tour to highlight key components of the installation.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/28/twenty-seconds-at-100-megakelvins/

Build Your Own Custom Elevator

There are a lot of things in our everyday life that are holdovers from an earlier time that we continue to use simply because of inertia even if they don’t make a lot of sense in modern times. Examples include a 60 Hz power grid, the spacing between railroad tracks, and of course the self-contained attic ladder which is made to fit in between standard spaced ceiling joists. It’s not wide enough to get big or heavy stuff into an attic, and building standards won’t change just for this one inconvenience, so if you want to turn that space into something more usable you’re going to need to build a custom elevator.

This attic elevator comes to us from [Brian] who recently moved into a home with about half the square footage as his previous home, but still needed to hold all of his stuff. That means clever ways of using the available space. For the elevator he constructed a platform out of 2x lumber held together with bolts and steel supports. The carriage runs up and down on a track made out 1 5/8″ super strut and is hoisted by a winch motor rated for 550 pounds, which is more than enough to hoist up most household items including a large toolbox.

The only thing that we would have liked to have seen in the video is how the opening was made. Presumably this would have involved cutting into a ceiling joist to make the opening wider than the standard attic ladder, and care would have needed to be taken to ensure the ceiling/floor wasn’t weakened. Either way, this is a great solution to a common problem, and could perhaps be made to work on more than two levels with a custom controller.

Thanks to [Jake] for the tip!

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/28/build-your-own-custom-elevator/

A Pull Chain to End Your Zoom Pain

Yay! Another videoconference call is in the books, so that must mean that it’s time to fumble around awkwardly for the hang-up button with a fading smile. [lanewinfield] knew there had to be a better way, and looked to the pull chain switch for salvation. Sure, this could just as easily be a button, but what’s the fun in that? Besides, few buttons would be as satisfying as pulling a chain to a Zoom call.

The pull chain switch is connected to an Adafruit Feather nRF52840 Express that’s emulating a Bluetooth keyboard. Firmware-wise it sends command + F6, which triggers an AppleScript that manually exits and and all Zoom calls and kills Chrome tabs pointed to meet.google.com. He’s using Apple’s hotkey wizard Alfred, but this could be handled just as easily with something like AutoHotKey.

Pull chain switches are neat little mechanisms. The chain is connected to a cam that engages a wheel with copper contacts on half the outside. When you pull the chain, the wheel moves 90° and the wheel contacts connect up with the fixed contacts inside the housing to make a connection. Pulling the chain again moves the wheel which slides to the half without the contacts. Check it out in the video below.

Via adafruit

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/28/a-pull-chain-to-end-your-zoom-pain/

The High-Tech Valor Glass Vials Used to Deliver the Coronavirus Vaccine

As the world waits for COVID-19 vaccines, some pharmaceutical companies stand armed and ready with an exciting improvement: better vials to hold the doses. Vials haven’t changed much in the last 100 years, but in 2011, Corning decided to do something about that. They started developing an alternative glass that is able to resist damage and prevent cracks. It’s called Valor glass, and it’s amazingly strong stuff. Think Gorilla glass for the medical industry.

Traditionally, pharmaceutical vials have been made from borosilicate glass, which is the same laboratory-safe material as Corning’s Pyrex. Borosilicate glass gets its strength from the addition of boron. Although borosilicate glass is pretty tough, it comes with some issues. Any type of glass is only as strong as its flaws, and borosilicate glasses are prone to some particularly strength-limiting flaws. Pharmaceutical glass must stand up to extreme temperatures, from the high heat of the vial-making process to the bitterly cold freeze-drying process and storing temperature required by the fragile viral RNA of some COVID-19 vaccines. Let’s take a look at how Valor glass vials tackle these challenges.

Eliminating Damage and Delamination

Borosilicate glass flakes float in the vial. Image via Corning Incorporated

The biggest problem with borosilicate vials beyond breakage is that they are prone to delaminating internally, meaning that little pieces of glass flake off inside of the vials and contaminate the medicine. During the converting phase, where long glass tubing is separated and the ends sealed off into vials, boron evaporates from the glass network and leaves sodium borate deposits on the inside of the tube. When the vial is filled with medicine, elements like sodium, silicon, and potassium leach from the glass and into the solution.

Corning spent millions of dollars to do an in-depth study and determined that boron itself was the root cause of delamination. So after combing through the periodic table and mixing various elements with silica, they came up with a boron-free alternative that uses aluminium oxide for strength.

Vials go through several stages of production from raw glass to ready dose, and every stage presents an opportunity for damage. Batches of intravenous drugs are created during a process called lyophilization, which is a three-stage freeze-drying process. Drugs expand at different rates during the lyophilization process, and these expansions generate additional stresses within the vials.

Another problem with borosilicate glass is the dust generated on the production line. All of those vials standing shoulder to shoulder will rub together as they move down the line, generating particulates that can ruin entire batches. Valor glass has a special coating with a low coefficient of friction that reduces dust to almost nothing.

Valor vials can withstand around 1,000 pounds of force. Image provided by Corning

Strong Stuff

The most impressive thing about Valor glass is its strength. In this video, a regular borosilicate vial breaks under a mere 20 kg of force. But this aptly-named super glass can withstand around 1,000 pounds force, which makes it fifty times stronger than borosilicate glass.

After the converting process that cuts and shapes the glass tubes into vials, the vials are submerged in a molten salt bath for toughness. During this process, potassium atoms in the brine swap with sodium atoms in the glass, and this fortification process is what gives Valor its strength. Corning originally developed this process for Gorilla glass — made famous through its use in scratch and shatter-resistant smartphone screens — a material which is similarly Herculean. The vials are then rinsed and coated with a polymer that greatly reduces glass dust when the bottles knock together.

To gauge the strength of the Valor vials, Corning did extensive freeze-thaw testing where they cooled vials from room temperature down to -100 °C in the span of about a minute, then allowed the vials to thaw back to room temperature over the next twelve hours. They processed and filled the vials with mannitol, a drug which expands rather aggressively during the freeze-thaw process. When mannitol crystallizes, it produces high hoop tensile stress within the vials and makes them susceptible to cracking and breakage. Valor vials are “at least 40x less likely to break than borosilicate vials under freeze-thaw conditions” (PDF) because their composition and molten salt bath help them maintain their strength throughout the lyophilization process.

Valor glass has tension layers and compression layers, and cracks that occur in the tension layer don’t propagate to the rest of the vial as they tend to do in borosilicate glasses. Valor glass will still break with enough force, so what the composition and annealing process really do is prevent cracks from growing and turning into breaks.

Over the summer, Corning received a $204M grant from the US government to expand manufacturing of Valor vials under the Operation Warp Speed initiative. And they’re not the only ones seeking new packaging solutions. Another company called SiO2 Materials Science are also producing an alternative to borosilicate that is a hybrid container — plastic lined with a thin glass-like coating that “eliminates the major concerns of glass and plastic when these materials are used alone.” Well, we need all the vials we can get.

source https://hackaday.com/2020/12/28/the-high-tech-valor-glass-vials-used-to-deliver-the-coronavirus-vaccine/