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Mercedes-Benz Offers 3D Printing Capabilities for Medical Devices

Design News - Wed, 2020-04-01 21:52

Mercedes-Benz has offered its support for the production of medical equipment. With the aid of 3D printers, individual components can be produced that are urgently needed in medical technology as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

A 3D-printed component is “unpacked” and cleaned. ©Daimler AG

“With our highly competent team and years of experience in 3D printing technology, we are ready to make our contribution to the production of medical devices,” says Jörg Burzer, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz AG, Production and Supply Chain. “To this end, we are also in contact with the state government of Baden-Württemberg. Our expertise and specialist knowledge is available for production; now it is up to the medical technology sector to contact us. Our 3D printers are definitely available.”

Mercedes-Benz has been gathering experience in the research and application of additive manufacturing for around 30 years. In the passenger car sector, 3D printing is usually used in prototype construction and small-series production.

Mercedes-Benz already uses 3D printing machines to produce up to 150,000 plastic and metal components every year. This capacity can now be fully utilized for medical purposes. All common 3D printing processes can be used – from stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modelling (FDM) to selective laser melting (SLM).

Plastics Community Responds to the COVID-19 Outbreak

Design News - Wed, 2020-04-01 16:15

When the going gets tough, the tough get going...and so do the helpers. The pandemic is the toughest challenge this and most countries have faced from public safety and economic standpoints in a long time.

However, there are points-of-light examples piercing the present pandemic-induced darkness as the plastics community rallies to cope and assist. As far as the latter, here are four fresh examples:

Cooperative Italian project protects frontline workers

High-performance nonwovens specialist RadiciGroup, Bergamo, Italy, provided 10,000 meters/32,808 feet of fabric for the production of gowns, caps and shoe covers to protect doctors, nurses and healthcare workers battling the coronavirus. Local company Plastik SpA laminated RadiciGroup nonwovens’ with a special film that makes the fabric breathable and anti-bacterial before tests of the material for medical use were performed and validated at Centrocot in Varese. Area garment makers immediately became engaged in the production of the garments.

The first 5,000 gowns will be donated to nearby Papa Giovanni XIII hospital.

Donation of Protective Masks

The Dukane Team in Prague, Czech Republic, leveraged the company’s ultrasonic equipment to weld plastics to manufacture more than 10,000 protective masks that are being donated to the most at critical-need organizations that include hospitals, first responders, nursing homes, and others.

See also Thermoformers Step Up to Produce Protective Gear for Healthcare Workers.

Donation of Sanitizer Films

Business Applications Manager Wolfgang Abele of biaxially-oriented films supplier Flex Film USA tells PlasticsToday it will donate films for single- and multi-use flexible sachet packaging/pouches for hand sanitizers or other relevant products in the fight against COVID-19.

Chinese-Assisted Disposable Mask Acquisition and Donation

FRX Polymers Inc., a global supplier in polymeric halogen-free flame retardant (FR) solutions based in Chelmsford, MA, joined forces with the Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL) in Lexington, MA, in reaching out to Chinese suppliers of personal protection equipment (PPE) and acquired disposable masks through generous donations from Lexington residents and support from FRX Polymers. The purchased masks were donated to nursing homes and frontline medical and health workers.

 

Keeping Business Running.

Other companies are supporting companies that are still operating in some capacity.

Virtual Press Checks

In late March, C-P Flexible Packaging introduced Virtual Press Check Capabilities that allow customers in critical infrastructure industries including shelf-stable foods and cleaning products to conduct press checks and approve graphics remotely. The system includes sophisticated light booths and HD 4k webcams.

“The equipment for all of our manufacturing locations,” Marketing Manager Amanda Dahlby tells PlasticsToday. “We have been testing it for more than a week, and the system is operational and ready to go. We hope that customers will begin taking advantage of this service immediately.”

R&D/Leverage promises to prioritize requests in essential areas including for customers involved with products and packaging used in protecting the health of the public, especially rigid plastics.  If customers need tooling for bottles that are used for hand sanitizer or disinfectants or if they have injection-molded products that are being impeded by this crisis, they can email info@rdleverage.com

We’ll continue to post relevant content on the pandemic and all topics of interest to the plastics community.

And there's a whole lot more related news. Since February 5, PlasticsToday has posted these COVID-19-centered articles starting with the latest:

Thermoformers Step Up to Produce Protective Gear for Healthcare Workers

Dow and Ineos Make Hand Sanitizer to Fight COVID-19

Formlabs Is 3D Printing More than 100,000 COVID-19 Test Swabs Daily

Plastics Processors, Mold Makers Deemed Essential during COVID-19 Outbreak

Coronavirus Forces Rethink on Plastic Bag Bans

Ford Pitches in to Fabricate Face Shields, Respirators, Ventilators

HP, Carbon, and Makers of All Stripes Enlist to Combat Shortages of Medical Equipment

Bringing the U.S. 'Arsenal of Health' to Bear Against COVID-19

3D Printing of Medical Face Masks Accelerates

Tessy Plastics Gives $2K to All Employees as Layoffs Loom

Plastics Workers Unsung Heroes in Battle against COVID-19

Updated: OEM Threatens to Sue Startup that Saved Lives by 3D Printing Medical Valves

Talent Talk: Hiring Strategies in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus Exposes Known Unknowns in the Supply Chain

Who Knew? The Reusable Coffee Cup in the Age of Coronavirus Is a Really Bad Idea

Batman-Inspired Shield Would Protect Wearers from Coronavirus

Coronavirus-Fueled Fears of Supply-Chain Shortages Worry OEMs

FDA: Coronavirus Could Lead to Shortages of Critical Medical Products

Could Single-Use Plastics Help Prevent a Pandemic?

Coronavirus protection using repurposed packaging

The NeRF Method for Creating 3D Models from 2D Photographs

Core 77 - Wed, 2020-04-01 15:56

Advances in the space of creating 3D models from 2D photographs are getting downright amazing. This month a team of computer vision researchers from UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and Google Research showed off their NeRF technique--that's Neural Radiance Fields--for "view synthesis" on a variety of objects captured as 2D images, and the level of detail extracted is astonishing:

Their research paper is here, and they've posted the code to Github.

See Also:

We're Getting Closer to Creating 3D Models from Single 2D Photographs


Minimum Viable Car: REE's Four-Wheels-and-a-Floor Offers Freedom of Design

Core 77 - Wed, 2020-04-01 15:56

Israeli tech company REE has developed a flat, car-sized platform whose only obvious features are four wheels at the corners. The floor holds the batteries while each wheel contains the "motor, steering, suspension, drivetrain, sensing, brakes, thermal systems and electronics."

The idea is that an OEM (like REE-collaborator Mitsubishi) could purchase the platforms, saving millions or billions in development costs, and dress it up however they wanted.

It would be neat to see this kind of customizability available at the consumer level--which is how things worked, at least for the wealthy, during the early decades of the car. As ICON's Jonathan Ward said in an interview, "If you were a baller in the 1920s, '30s or '40s, you didn't go buy a Cadillac. You bought a Cadillac [engine and chassis], and you sent it to one of the [independent coachmakers], and they built a custom vehicle just for you on that platform."

Apple Releases COVID-19 App

Core 77 - Wed, 2020-04-01 15:56

Apple has released a free app that provides basic information about COVID-19, along with a "screening tool" (i.e. a questionnaire) to help you determine what to do next.

The COVID-19 app has up-to-date information from trusted sources about the coronavirus disease that is impacting people across the world. It has a screening tool so you can find out what you should do now for yourself or for a loved one. And it gives you access to resources you may need to feel supported and informed.

My main takeaway: Some graphic designer was tasked with icon-izing the actual Coronavirus particle and dropping it into a squircle.

GM/Ventec Ventilator Production May Not Happen, Trump Says "I Don't Believe You Need 40,000 or 30,000 Ventilators"

Core 77 - Wed, 2020-04-01 15:56

To address America's shortage of ventilators, last Sunday, President Trump tweeted:

Encouragingly, the next day Autoblog reported that "General Motors and medical equipment maker Ventec are speeding up efforts under a partnership code-named "Project V" to build ventilators at a GM plant in Kokomo, Indiana, to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.

GM said on Monday that work at its Indiana plant, which makes small electronic components for cars, is part of the effort to expand ventilator production. Sources said the GM-Ventec project is known internally as "Project V."

The White House was supposed to announce the GM/Ventec venture on Wednesday. However, as the Times reports, "word suddenly came down that the announcement was off."

The decision to cancel the announcement, government officials say, came after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it needed more time to assess whether the estimated cost was prohibitive. That price tag was more than $1 billion, with several hundred million dollars to be paid upfront to General Motors to retool a car parts plant in Kokomo, Ind., where the ventilators would be made with Ventec's technology.

Government officials said that the deal might still happen but that they are examining at least a dozen other proposals. And they contend that an initial promise that the joint venture could turn out 20,000 ventilators in short order had shrunk to 7,500, with even that number in doubt. Longtime emergency managers at FEMA are working with military officials to sort through the competing offers and federal procurement rules while under pressure to give President Trump something to announce.

The President did have something to announce, the next day (i.e. last night). Last night, the President said on Fox News:

"I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they'll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they're saying, 'Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'"

The 30,000 number refers to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's estimate of how many that state will need. It now seems in doubt as to whether they will get them.

Update:

This morning, the President sent out these tweets:

This would indicate, if we take these words at face value, that the issue is both cost and production capacity (and it unhelpfully includes a personal attack on GM CEO Mary Barra). However, the next tweet was this:

So that seems to imply that GM and Ford have been idle, which does not appear to be the case; the Times reports that as of this morning "The carmakers note that they have not been given any contracts yet by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that the White House had failed to make a decision about who should be supplying the ventilators, which help critically ill patients breathe."

Clarity on the matter was, at press time, hard to come by.

Thermoformers Step Up to Produce Protective Gear for Healthcare Workers

Design News - Wed, 2020-04-01 09:37

All across the country, manufacturers are stepping up as best they can to help healthcare providers struggling with shortages of medical equipment. In Janesville, WI, custom packaging supplier Prent Corp. has dedicated a line to the production of face shields needed by local healthcare facilities. In Kalamazoo, MI, Fabri-Kal will be delivering its first batch of face shields later this week to hospitals in southwest Michigan.

Prent Corp. has an entire production line dedicated to making face shields without impacting other orders. Image courtesy Prent.

When Prent learned last week that nearby Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center had a shortage of protective equipment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it got to work. Within 48 hours, Prent had donated more than 10,000 face shields to Mercyhealth and other local healthcare facilities, the company said in a press release. Prent added that it plans to ramp up production for healthcare workers in need throughout the country.

“Just a few hours after Prent officials learned of the shortage, Prent’s product designers . . . drew up and produced a prototype protective face shield designed for doctors, medical workers, and first responders,” reported GazetteXtra. “Less than 12 hours later, the prototype was in the hands of doctors at Mercyhealth.”

“We heard there was a dire need in our community and we knew we could help, so we dedicated a team to work on it immediately,” said Joseph Pregont II, Vice President,  Corporate Sales. “The added capacity means we have an entire production line dedicated to making face shields without impacting other orders. We’ll continue face shield production until hospital supply chains can meet the demand,” said Pregont II in a prepared statement.

Right now, many healthcare workers are forced to reuse surgical masks because they’re in short supply. The face shield covers the whole face to help keep masks clean so they can be safely used longer.

Initially, Prent designers tried creating a traditional face shield with three parts — shield, foam cushion, and elastic headband — but determined that it would take too long to source all the parts. Instead, the company designed an innovative solution made of plastic and foam that could be produced and delivered quickly. A physician at Mercyhealth tested the prototypes and selected one that fit well without fogging up.

The scratch-resistant, recycled PETG plastic material from sister company GOEX was extruded in an unprecedented 24 hours, said Prent. The machine die was developed by Millenium Die Group in just five hours. Then full production began. During the first shift at Prent, workers produced 2,200 face shields that were delivered to Mercyhealth. The company intends to continue making face shields for the foreseeable future until there is no longer a shortage at medical facilities. Prent estimates it has the capacity to make millions of face shields per week.

A similar scenario presented itself to Kalamazoo-based Fabri-Kal, a supplier of foodservice and custom thermoformed packaging. Early last week, Bronson Healthcare, which serves southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, contacted economic development agency Southwest Michigan First requesting support to acquire personal protection equipment (PPE). With input from healthcare professionals, Fabri-Kal, recycler Schupan & Sons, and materials supplier Tekna “were able to collaborate and adapt a concept design provided by the Global Center for Medical Innovation consortium to the current design in less than one week,” reports regional digital daily First&42.

Fabri-Kal forms and cuts the plastic shield, which is handed off to Schupan & Sons for assembly. All of the components — foam, elastic and plastic shield — then go to Tekna for final assembly and delivery to hospitals, said First&42. The first batch is scheduled to arrive at local healthcare facilities this week.

The decision to support this effort was an easy one, said Mike Roeder, President and Chief Operating Officer at Fabri-Kal. “We started this whole thing with the idea that we need to protect our employees, protect our community, and then protect our business,” he said. “Because if you don’t have the first two, the third one doesn’t much matter.”

Quiz: How Robot-proof Is Your Job?

Design News - Wed, 2020-04-01 05:30
(Image source: Adobe Stock)

Is your job in danger of being automated away? Frankly, it depends. At the extremes there are jobs that will most certainly be automated very soon (fast food order takers), while others may likely never be (hostage negotiators).

In his book The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity  futurist and author Byron Reese takes a look at the impact artificial intelligence and robotics are having on our workplaces and society at large. The following quiz is adapted from his book.

Where does your job rank on a scale of 0-100 (100 being the most susceptible to automation).

If you'd like to take a more extensive version of the quiz Reese has set one up on his own website that is worth trying out.

Are there robot-proof jobs? Read an excerpt from Reese's book for more. 

 

 

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Best April Fools' Day Pranks by and for Engineers

Design News - Wed, 2020-04-01 05:30

 

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John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Are There Robot-proof Jobs?

Design News - Wed, 2020-04-01 05:28
(Image source: Adobe Stock)

When I give talks about AI and robots, they are often followed by a bit of Q&A. By far, the number one question I am asked from the audience is a variant of, “What should my kids be studying today to make sure that they are employable in the future?” As a dad with four kids under 20, I too have pondered this question at length.

If possibility one is true—that is, if robots take all the jobs—then the prediction of the author Warren G. Bennis will also have come true, that “the factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.” In other words, there would be no robot-proof jobs.

But if possibility two or possibility three comes to pass, then there will be robot-proof jobs. What will they be? A good method for evaluating any job’s likelihood of being automated is what I call the “training manual test.” Think about a set of instructions needed to do your job, right down to the most specific part. How long is that document? Think about a posthole digger versus an electrician. The longer the instruction manual, the more situations, special cases, and exceptions exist that need to be explained. Interestingly, when surveyed, people overwhelmingly believe that automation will destroy a large number of jobs, but also overwhelmingly believe that their own job is robot-proof. In other words, most people think that the manual to do their job is large while other people’s job manuals are smaller.

The reason the training manual test works is because writing a manual on how to do a job is a bit like programming a computer or robot to do a job. In a program, every step, every contingency, every exception, needs to be thought through and handled.

One wonders if there are there some jobs that can’t be written down. Could anyone write a set of instructions to compose a sonata or write a great novel? How you answered our big foundational questions probably determines what you think on this question. To those who think they are machines, who are monists, there is nothing mysterious about creativity that would keep machines from mastering it, whereas those on the other side of that gulf see creativity as a special, uniquely human ability.

Below are several groups of jobs that, regardless of your beliefs about the capabilities of robots, should be stable for a long time.

Want to see how robot-proof your job may be? Take our interactive quiz!

Jobs Robots Can Do but Probably Never Will

The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity by Byron Reese.

Some jobs are quite secure and are accessible to a huge range of the population, regardless of intellect, educational attainment, or financial resources, because although a robot could do them, it doesn’t make economic sense for them to do so. Think of all of the jobs people will need for the next hundred years, but only very occasionally.

I live in a home built in the 1800s that contains several fireplaces. I wanted to be able to use them without constantly wondering if I was going to burn the house down, so I called in “the guy” for old fireplace restoration. He took one look at them and started spouting off how they clearly hadn’t been rebuilt in the nineteen-sometime when some report came out in England that specified blah-blah-blah better heat reflection blah-blah-blah. Then he talked about a dozen other things relating to fireplaces that I tuned out because clearly this man knew more about fireplaces than anyone else I would ever meet, or he was a convincing enough pathological liar that I would never figure him out. Either way, the result is the same: I hired him to make my fireplaces safe. He is my poster child of a guy who isn’t going to be replaced by a robot for a long time. His grandkids can probably retire from that business.

There are many of these jobs: repairing antique clocks, leveling pier-and-beam houses, and restoring vintage guitars, just to name a few. Just make sure the object you’re working on isn’t likely to vanish. Being the best VCR repairman in the world is not a career path I would suggest.

Jobs We Won’t Want Robots to Do

There are jobs that, for a variety of reasons, we wouldn’t want a machine to do. This case is pretty straightforward. NFL football player, ballerina, spirit guide, priest, and actor, just to name a few. Additionally, there are jobs that incorporate some amount of nostalgia or quaintness, such as blacksmith or candlemaker.

Unpredictable Jobs

Some jobs are so unpredictable that you can’t write a manual on how to do, because the nature of job has inherent unpredictability. I have served as the CEO of several companies, and my job description was basically: Come in every morning and fix whatever broke and seize whatever opportunities presented themselves. Frankly, much of the time I just winged it. I remember one day I reviewed a lease agreement, brainstormed names for a new product, and captured a large rat that fell through a ceiling tile onto an employee’s desk. If there was a robot that could do all of that, I’d put down a deposit on it today.

Jobs That Need a High Social IQ

Some jobs that require high-level interaction with other people, and they usually need superior communication abilities as well. Event planner, public relations specialist, politician, hostage negotiator, and director of social media are just a few examples. Think of jobs that require empathy or outrage or passion.

Jobs Done On-Site

On-site jobs will be difficult to be done with robots. Robots work well in perfectly controlled environments, such as factories and warehouses, and not in ad hoc environments like your aunt Sue’s attic. Forest rangers and electricians are a couple of jobs like this that come to mind, but there are many more.

Jobs That Require Creativity or Abstract Thinking

It will be hard if not impossible for computers to be able to do jobs that require creativity or abstract thinking, because we don’t really even understand how humans do these things. Possible jobs include author (yay!), logo designer, composer, copywriter, brand strategist, and management consultant.

Jobs No One Has Thought of Yet

There are going to be innumerable new jobs created by all this new technology. Given that a huge number of current jobs didn’t exist before 2000, it stands to reason that many more new professions are just around the corner. The market research company Forrester forecasts that within the next decade, an astonishing 12.7 million new US jobs will be created building robots and the software that powers them.

Some jobs are easier automated than others. Fast food chains like McDonald's are already piloting tests of automated drive-thrus with features enhanced by machine learning.
(Image source: McDonald's / Dynamic Yield)

Will there be some people in the future who are completely unable to compete with machines for work? It depends on which of the three possibilities comes to pass.

Possibility one is the easiest case. In that scenario, there is virtually nothing that the machines can’t do better than us. There may be a few jobs that for nostalgic reasons humans will still do, but for the rest of us, the period of humans having economic value will be over. It was Karl Marx who said that “the production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.” This would prove him correct in the extreme.

Possibility two involves unemployable people as well. The central idea behind this is that there will be a substantial number of low-skill workers who will not be able to compete with machines. In this view, the hierarchy of economic value in the future goes from skilled humans on top, then robots, then low-skilled workers.

In this scenario, there are a great many low-skill jobs that robots will soon be able to do. For each job replaced, the number of unemployed unskilled workers will increase and the number of unskilled jobs will decrease. So the world will have ever more unskilled workers competing for ever fewer unskilled jobs.

There are those who believe that we are already seeing this happen. To support their position, they point to the labor participation rate, which is the percentage of adults currently working. It peaked at 67 percent in 2000 and is down about four points now. The theory is that more people are completely withdrawing from the job market. Giving it all up, calling it quits. (The unemployment rate reflects only people who are looking for work, so these folks are not counted.)

It turns out that cyclical business cycle factors and the retirement of the baby boomers explain most of the drop, but not about 1 percent of it. Is that 1 percent a harbinger of things to come? Of course, we would expect the workforce participation number to decline as we get wealthier, right? Maybe both spouses no longer have to work, or perhaps someone’s bonus was so big this year that he or she is taking a year’s sabbatical. I think we would be hard-pressed to project onto this data the narrative that unemployable workers have lost their jobs and given up hope of getting new ones. It is notoriously hard to coax psychological conclusions from economic data.

Others point to the fact that since 2000, we have had increasing productivity coupled with flat wages and slow job growth. They see this combination as a sure sign that employers were growing their businesses by investing in technology and not people, lowering the demand for human labor. There are two problems with associating that economic data with robots taking jobs. First, the flat job market began abruptly in 2000 and lasted for about fifteen years, during which we had a couple of recessions, a financial crisis, growth in trade, and much more. It is not evident that automation was the underlying cause. Second, in the United States, 2015 had the largest growth in median income ever recorded and saw over three million people move out of poverty.

Finally, if possibility three happens, there will be no unemployable humans. But is this really possible? As mechanization and automation increase, surely there are some people who are left behind. Eventually some people can’t compete for work, right?

No. Assuming that a person is not afflicted with a debilitating physical or mental condition, there are no low-skilled humans. The difference between a human with an IQ of 90 and one with an IQ of 130 seems quite stark if they are playing Jeopardy!, but in reality, in the grand scheme of things, the difference is trivial. This idea is the basis of the well-known Polanyi paradox. In 1966, Michael Polanyi argued that there is a vast realm of human knowledge that consists of learning and skills that lie below our conscious thoughts. Think, for instance, about all the steps involved in baking a cake. Getting the dishes out, melting the butter, cracking the eggs, mixing the batter, frosting the cake, and so on. Virtually any human can do all of this, without even thinking about it. But a human’s abilities lie not just in making a cake, but in the ten thousand other things we can all do, like spot when our spouse is in a bad mood or brush our teeth or ride a bicycle. We are vast storehouses of ability, all of us. But because one person can do those ten thousand things and one person can do those ten thousand things—and knows about estate planning—we say one is low skilled and one is high skilled. But this is not the case, as they both have 99 percent or more of the same skills.

The idea that there are humans who cannot learn new jobs sells human potential short. The idea that the person doing a certain unskilled job is working at the limits of his or her ability is simply not true. Most people, in my experience, feel that they can do more than the job they have calls them to do. Given a chance to take on more challenging work in exchange for more responsibility and money, most people tend to say yes. People want meaning and purpose and, of course, higher wages, if they can get them. The only reason we use a person to shingle a roof is not because all that person can do is to shingle a roof, but because we haven’t invented a machine to shingle that roof. So while that roofer may have it in himself to manage 20 workers and come up with an aggressive plan for growth, well, the roof needs shingling and no one has built a machine to do so.

Imagine a person who mows lawns for a living. Let’s call him Jerry. Jerry graduated high school, but has no more education than that. Further, let’s say that someone develops a self-driving lawnmower that sells for a low price, and Jerry suddenly sees the bottom drop out of the lawn-mowing profession. What could he do?

A thousand things, actually. Remember, under the view of possibility three, all Jerry has to do is find a way to add value. Then he has a job. Jerry might, for instance, learn on the Internet how to plant and maintain grape arbors. That isn’t a big stretch, is it? I am not saying Jerry becomes a horticulturalist. He just reads enough to learn about how to plant and grow grapes. He then goes door-to-door with his message about the joys of growing your own grapes. Heck, I’d buy.

Then, 20 years later, Grape Arbor Robotics comes out with a robot that can plant vastly better arbors than Jerry can. So what does he do? He reads up on landscaping in the Victorian era. Then he goes door-to-door offering to plant historically accurate shrubs and flowers in historically accurate arrangements. Someday a robot will be invented to do that, but Jerry will have retired by then.

Who in the world could say Jerry is “unemployable”? He is powered by the most complex and versatile object in the known universe.

 

*Adapted from The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity by Byron Reese, published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., Copyright © 2018 by Bryon Reese. Reprinted with permission.

 

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Bryon Reese is the CEO and publisher of GigaOm, an industry-leading technology research company. In addition, he is an award-winning author and speaker, as well as a futurist with a strong conviction that technology will help bring about a new golden age of humanity. Byron holds a number of technology patents and hosts two podcasts about artificial intelligence. He gives talks around the world about how technology is changing work, education, and culture. He has spoken about technology all over the world to combined audiences well in excess of 100,000.

Twittering Earth Plants Talk to the Heavens

Design News - Wed, 2020-04-01 03:13

There was a time when organic plants appealed only to our nutritional needs and visual aesthetics. Plants might have talked with one another via their roots, but they almost never spoke to humans.

  Image Sourcew: Botanicalls Kit V3 / Sparkfun Electronics

That all changed with the arrival of the Internet of Things (IOT). Back in 2006, a project called Botanicalls was started to enable houseplants to engage with humans through the telephone or Twitter. Botanicalls was a networked sensing communication system that allowed plants to place phone calls and send tweets for human help. For example, a thirsty plant could send a message to a person asking to be watered. On the other hand, a person could phone up the plant to hear about their latest needs and garden gossip.

But plant communication has evolved greatly over the last 14 years. No longer satisfied with conversations between neighboring plants or even through the telephone and Twitter, today’s plants want to communicate globally. Theses desires of the biological kingdom have been made possible thanks to extremely low power devices and low earth orbit (LEO) satellite technologies.

A Netherlands-based company called Plant-e and Lacuna Space – in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) – have created a plant-powered IoT sensor that communicates with a LEO satellite. This amazing achievement is the result of Plant-e's energy harvesting technology integrated with Lacuna's power-efficient devices.

The practical benefits of this plant to satellite communication is that farmers can better optimize crop growth and conditions to produce the maximum yield at harvest time.

Image Source: ESA / Plant-e BV

Plants turn the sun’s energy into organic matter through photosynthesis. However, only part of that organic matter is used for growth. The rest is leaked into the soil through the plant’s root system. Then, in the soil, bacteria around the roots break down the organic matter which releases electrons as a unwanted by-product.

The technology developed by Plant-e harvests these electrons to power small electrical devices. This means that plants can become an even bigger part of the green energy movement, since many plant varieties already capture CO2 from the environment.

But if one plant is good, wouldn’t a field of plants be even better? They might, but probably not in a way that plants would want to talk about. Researcher Pen-Chi-Chiang and colleagues at the National Taiwan University are studying the possibility of using plant material to make key components for energy storage devices – for example, batteries.

As reported a few years ago in the journal Materials Today Energy, plant-derived biomass materials are a promising source for various energy storage applications, such as batteries and supercapacitors. Current energy storage systems like lithium-ion batteries are made from limited resources and create environmental problems when disposed.

A sustainable energy storage device technology is needed that uses renewable materials that are less damaging to the environment. The researchers pointed out the one promising approach is the conversion of plant biomass into a material called porous carbon, a carbon structure that can be fabricated into three-dimensional ordered “nanostructures” with a variety of useful electrochemical properties.

From powering communication with satellites to serving as the renewable production material for nanostructures, plants truly the planet’s greenest of the green species.

 

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John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights Dependence on Asia for PPE

Design News - Tue, 2020-03-31 23:07

German machinery manufacturer Reifenhäuser Reicofil has temporarily converted two of its test plants due to the corona pandemic to produce meltblown nonwoven fabric for face masks. The lines at its nonwovens technology center in Troisdorf, Germany, otherwise exclusively used for R&D and customer trials, are turning out meltblown nonwoven fabric for up to one million face masks daily.

German-made meltblown nonwoven fabric will be shipped to Vietnam for conversion into face masks. Image courtesy of Reifenhäuser Reicofil.

Reifenhäuser could not locate any German or European producer for further processing into face masks and says the nonwoven fabric is going to a Vietnamese manufacturer for conversion to the final product. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dependence of Western nations on Asian countries, particularly China, for personal protective equipment (PPE). However, Reifenhäuser continues to look for opportunities to strengthen local supply during this crisis. The company is in close contact with associations, authorities and other companies.

To become more independent from China in the area of medical supply, countries are increasingly considering setting up their own production according to Reifenhäuser Reicofil, which now supports countries and other investors to implement such projects as speedily as possible by shortening the delivery time to only 3.5 months for meltblown lines to produce the crucial middle material layer for face masks.

The first contract with the new delivery time has already been concluded. The 1.6-meter-wide Reicofil Meltblown line is scheduled to start operation in August 2020. With an annual output of 550 tonnes, the plant will produce H99 filter material for up to 1.8 million face masks a day.

Bernd Kunze, CEO of Reifenhäuser Reicofil, explains the current strategy as follows: “We have considered what contribution we can make in this crisis. This is of course mainly the fast delivery of meltblown lines to build up additional capacities. We have drastically reduced our delivery times here. But we also wanted to provide support at shorter notice. Until the currently lacking capacities are built up, we are stepping in with the test plants. Not using this capacity now would be irresponsible in our view.”

Kunze adds that material for other medical protective clothing can also be produced at short notice: “We assume that protective suits and hoods will also become scarce. We are happy to offer our help here as well. One of our pilot lines can produce the corresponding material, an SMS nonwoven, at short notice. In the medium term, however, we should also expand production capacities in Germany or Europe.”

Reifenhäuser Reicofil also supplies technology for the production of other medical protection clothing, such as surgical gowns. These products are made of an SMS nonwoven structure – a combination of spunbond (S) and meltblown (M) materials. The corresponding Reicofil composite lines can be delivered within ten to eleven months.

Electric Cars Better for Climate in 95% of the World Claims New Report

Design News - Tue, 2020-03-31 22:38

Media reports have regularly questioned whether electric cars are really “greener” once emissions from production and generating their electricity are taken into account. Indeed academics in Germany recently reported that considering Germany’s current energy mix and the amount of energy used in battery production, the CO2 emissions of battery-electric vehicles are, in the best case, slightly higher than those of a diesel engine.

But a new study by the universities of Exeter (UK), Nijmegen (the Netherlands) and Cambridge (UK) has concluded that electric cars lead to lower carbon emissions overall, even if electricity generation still involves substantial amounts of fossil fuel. Already under current conditions, driving an electric car is better for the climate than conventional petrol cars in 95% of the world, the study finds. The only exceptions are places like Poland, where electricity generation is still mostly based on coal.

Already under current conditions, driving an electric car is better for the climate than conventional petrol cars in 95% of the world. Image by (Joenomias) Menno de Jong from Pixabay.

Average lifetime emissions from electric cars are up to 70% lower than petrol cars in countries like Sweden and France (which get most of their electricity from renewables and nuclear), and around 30% lower in the UK. In a few years, even inefficient electric cars will be less emission-intensive than most new petrol cars in most countries, as electricity generation is expected to be less carbon-intensive than today.

The study projects that in 2050, every second car on the streets could be electric. This would reduce global CO2 emissions by up to 1.5 gigatons per year, which is equivalent to the total current CO2 emissions of Russia.

The study also looked at electric household heat pumps, and found they too produce lower emissions than fossil-fuel alternatives in 95% of the world. Heat pumps could reduce global CO2 emissions in 2050 by up to 0.8 gigatons per year – roughly equal to Germany’s current annual emissions.

“We started this work a few years ago, and policy-makers in the UK and abroad have shown a lot of interest in the results,” said Dr Jean-Francois Mercure, of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter. “The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives.”

“In other words, the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is essentially a myth,” said Dr Florian Knobloch, of the Environmental Science Department at the University of Nijmegen (The Netherlands), the lead author of the study. “We've seen a lot of discussion about this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths. We have run the numbers for all around the world, looking at a whole range of cars and heating systems. Even in our worst-case scenario, there would be a reduction in emissions in almost all cases. This insight should be very useful for policy-makers.”

The study examined the current and future emissions of different types of vehicles and home heating options worldwide. It divided the world into 59 regions to account for differences in power generation and technology.

In 53 of these regions – including the US, China and most of Europe – the findings show electric cars and heat pumps are already less emission-intensive than fossil-fuel alternatives. These 53 regions represent 95% of global transport and heating demand and, with energy production decarbonizing worldwide, Dr Mercure said the “last few debatable cases will soon disappear”.

The researchers carried out a life-cycle assessment in which they not only calculated greenhouse gas emissions generated when using cars and heating systems, but also in the production chain and waste processing.

“Taking into account emissions from manufacturing and ongoing energy use, it’s clear that we should encourage the switch to electric cars and household heat pumps without any regrets,” Dr Knobloch concluded.

The paper, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, is entitled: “Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time.”

The study does not address non-exhaust emissions from automobiles, such as brake dust and tire dust, which can be 1000-times worse and tend to be higher for heavier vehicles such as SUVs and electric cars, which tend to be heavier than their standard gasoline or diesel engine counterparts, according to a study by Emissions Analytics.

Working From Home, Spouse Driving You Nuts? Turn Your Car Into a Private Office

Core 77 - Tue, 2020-03-31 14:58

With both you and your spouse working from home, tempers can fray, particularly if you have limited space and different working styles. Maybe one partner needs total silence while the other's job involves yapping on the phone. What millions of people may be overlooking is that they unwittingly have an unused satellite office sitting in their driveway.

Don't get me wrong: While we've all seen images of common road-warrior set-ups…


…I'm not advocating those. Typing from the driver's seat while angling your body towards a laptop on the passenger side is agony. There are laptop trays that mount on the steering wheel…

…but you've still got the pedals in the way of your feet. Also, driver's seats are typically more cramped than the seating in the back.

Which is what I'm getting at. Those systems above are all designed for people who have to drive, stop, do some work, drive, stop, rinse-and-repeat, so they're sitting in the driver's seat.

No-Driving-Needed Advantages

Since you are probably in lockdown and don't need to drive anywhere, you have some car-office-set-up luxuries that true road warriors don't. For example:

1. You have the luxury of using the back seat.

You can pretend you're some chauffeured business magnate (assuming you've got the legroom back there). You don't have the steering wheel in your way and you don't have to type in a diagonal position, but can put the laptop right in front of you.

2. You don't need to worry about power adapters.

Since the car's not going anywhere, you can run an extension cord. But even if you can't, you're going to want to get out of the car every so often for a stretching break or to eat, and you can juice your laptop up during those breaks.


3. You don't need to worry about a printer.

Unless you print all the time, the driveway is close enough to the house that you can run inside whenever you need to print and take a little break.


4. You don't have to rely on cell service.

Assuming your WiFi router is close enough to the driveway, you can download large files at speeds unimaginable on the road.

And while your car probably doesn't offer this level of luxury…

…and you may not be able to currently buy the back seat laptop trays anywhere, I'm thinking it shouldn't be hard to DIY something.

In fact, here's an Instructable.



Happy non-motoring!

3D Printing Company Issinova Hacks Consumer Snorkeling Masks for Ventilator Use

Core 77 - Tue, 2020-03-31 14:58

Issinova, the Italian 3D printing company that used digital fabrication to save the day at an Italian hospital, has come up with another brilliant innovation. The doctor they previously collaborated with, Dr. Renato Favero, "shared with us an idea to fix the possible shortage of hospital C-PAP masks for sub-intensive therapy, which is emerging as a concrete problem linked to the spread of Covid-19: it's the construction of an emergency ventilator mask, realized by adjusting a snorkeling mask already available on the market."

Decathlon's standard Easybreath snorkeling mask

Issinova studied the idea and reached out to sporting goods company Decathlon, who makes the Easybreath snorkeling masks in question. Unlike with the ventilator manufacturer, who was unable to share the CAD files of their part due to medical regulations, Decathlon "was immediately willing to cooperate by providing the CAD drawing of the mask we had identified. The product was dismantled, studied, and the changes to be made were evaluated. A new component was then designed to guarantee the connection to the ventilator. We called the link Charlotte valve, and we quickly printed it using 3D printing."

Easybreath with Issinova's 3D-printed "Charlotte" valve

The prototype was tested at the hospital and deemed a success. Issinova then patented their connecting "Charlotte" valve, not to profit off of it, but to be sure the design is kept free. "We clarify that the patent will remain free to use, because it is in our intention that all hospitals in need could use it if necessary," they write.

About that "if necessary" bit: Issinova stresses that the hacked scuba mask is not a certified biomedical device. This is an Oh-shit-the-patient's-gonna-die-because-we-don't-have-any-actual-masks device. Issinova designed their component so that hospitals in short supply could buy the off-the-shelf scuba mask, 3D print the connecting valve and use it to save someone's life.

You can find the files to print the valves here.

In the coming weeks, we'll likely need to see more innovation like this. If you've got access to rapid prototyping and some design skills, please consider reaching out to your local hospital to see what they might need--and think about what other industries you might be able to connect them to. The snorkeling connection was a great insight.

The CoVent: Dyson Designs Ventilator "From Scratch" in 10 Days, Will Donate 5,000 Units

Core 77 - Tue, 2020-03-31 14:58

Best known for their vacuums and fans, Dyson has developed the CoVent, a new ventilator "designed and built from scratch," according to the BBC. And according to Dyson's statement (reprinted on ITV News), it appears the company pulled this off in just days:

Since I received a call from Boris Johnson ten days ago, we have refocused resources at Dyson, and worked with [medical company] TTP, The Technology Partnership, to design and build an entirely new ventilator, The CoVent. This new device can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume. It is designed to address the specific clinical needs of Covid-19 patients, and it is suited to a variety of clinical settings. The core challenge was how to design and deliver a new, sophisticated medical product in volume and in an extremely short space of time. The race is now on to get it into production.

The CoVent

The Dyson Digital motor sits at the heart of the new device and the motor's design is optimised to have a very high level of intrinsic safety, making it particularly well-suited for industrial, high volume production. The device is designed to achieve a high quality air supply to ensure its safety and effectiveness, drawing on our air purifier expertise which delivers high-quality filtration in high-volume products.

The CoVent attached to a hospital bed

The UK government has put in an initial order of 10,000 units, but it looks like Dyson will make at least 15,000:

I am proud of what Dyson engineers and our partners at TTP have achieved. I am eager to see this new device in production and in hospitals as soon as possible. This is clearly a time of grave international crisis, I will therefore donate 5,000 units to the international effort, 1,000 of which will go to the United Kingdom.

Designers' Tips and Comments on Working From Home

Core 77 - Tue, 2020-03-31 14:58

If you're a working designer, you're currently working from home. For some of you that's new, for others it's old hat. On the Core77 Boards, working designers are currently sharing their tips and comments on WFH.

Forum Moderator Mr-914 kicks it off:

"I've worked at home a few times in the past year. Usually when a child is sick or I have an appointment. I haven't enjoyed it as I didn't have a dedicated space, I lack the quick feedback of impromptu meetings and I miss the camaraderie of the office.

"This week, I've actually enjoyed it. I've set up a dedicated desk in our house for work. My colleagues are much more active on our chat program. My kids distract me occasionally, but only just enough that I don't get too lonely or stuck in rut. I think I could get used to this.

"How is everyone else getting by?"

slippyfish points out the importance of routine (and the privilege of booze):


"Nick Cave - the musician - puts on a suit every morning and goes to his office. His office has a desk, typewriter or laptop, piano, guitar, musical tools. He goes to work every morning even though his work is arguably more 'fickle' and open to inspiration than a 'creative' designer. I like that attitude. Get up, get dressed, brush your teeth, be there on-time.

"And you can work all night with adult beverages as well."

cwatkinson also stresses the need for having a routine:

"Working at home - KEEP a routine!
"Act as if you are going into work each day - wake up on time, shower, dressed (no PJ's) and stick to your schedule. Of course, if you need a brain break don't be afraid to do a task around the house. Or spend some time interacting with the family--but not a 3 hour break. This allows you to maintain productivity.

"Of course there is always balance--I am more efficient and perform better doing design in the evening--but I make sure I get the minimal 8 hours completed and whatever tasks I had set."

iab brings up one of the downsides of not having to commute:

"It has been awhile since I home-officed. Currently my biggest issue is disconnecting from work at the end of the day. Different physical locations makes for an excellent switch in my case. Now, when I 'quit' and just go upstairs, I'm still connected to work. I don't like it at all. "

Michael DiTullo sounds off with six tips that make his day go smoother:

"A few things that work for me:

"1) Set up a 'commute.' I go for a 30-45 minute walk each morning and when I get home I'm 'at work.'

"2) Get a good microphone and speakers for video conferences.

"3) Get some good overhead lighting and front lighting with daylight bulbs for video conferences (avoid back lighting).

"4) Make sure you have a good backdrop for video conferences... (obviously lots about video conferences).

"5) Remember to be social while social distancing. Been doing lots of texts, FaceTimes, and general chats with friends.

"6) Take another 'commute' at the end of the day to go 'home' and put all the work aside."

rkuchinsky, a WFH veteran, shares his time-tested tips:

"I've been working from home for almost 14 years now.

"I find it's partly your set up, but also your personality. Some people are just easily distracted and others can focus. Some basics I find helpful:

"1. Separation. Even if not physical. I previously had a 1400-s.f. open concept loft, but had my office area off to one side and had a separate set of pot lights above so I could switch the "office" off. Before that I had a 800SF loft and had the work desk under the TV that was on the wall but facing the sofa so I was in the same physical space as the living room but facing the opposite direction.

"2. Behaviour. Allow yourself to keep your work space differently than your home. Messy, organized, whatever, but some freedom to have different behaviors is best. My work space is usually an organized chaos but my house is tidy. I can close the door and ignore it...

"3. Routine. Could be time to get in your work chair, time to log off, time for lunch, but some routine is best.

"4. Social barrier. With kids or family around, you need to set expectations of when you are not available for family time.

"Good thing with working from home is you are so much more in control of your productivity. You can be creative when it works for you if there's no clock to punch. I can do more creative work from 2pm-4pm than I ever could from 9am-12pm. I save mornings for emails, meetings and routine follow-ups. I've been saying for years I probably work half the hours for twice the pay just because I skip all the nonsense chats around the coffee room, waste of time meetings, check ins with useless people...

"I can't imagine even being in an office anymore (though I never say never)!"

____________

Got some tips, questions or comments of your own? Sound off here. (And please don't tell Nick Cave I looted his website for photos.)


Now Might Be a Really Good Time to Invest in a Bidet

Core 77 - Tue, 2020-03-31 14:58

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the demand for toilet paper has skyrocketed and there may be no better time for a switch over to a bidet than right now. Not only does a bidet make for a more hygienic bathroom experience, it also in the long run can save you money and help the planet by reducing the need for toilet paper.

If it hasn't occurred to you yet to make the switch, it certainly has been on the minds of other Americans, as demonstrated by the general explosion of sales. CEO of the millennial bidet company Tushy, Jason Ojalvo, just recently told the New York Post that in the month of March they've seen their profits increase tenfold.

Years ago, bidets were regarded as elite products, but thankfully the past decade has seen plenty of bidet toilet seat innovation going on resulting in much more affordable alternatives. For anyone curious, we did a bit of research to find 5 affordable yet well-designed bidets to order now.

But first: a few things to note about bidet installation

There are few important things to consider before investing in a bidet. Wirecutter has done a good job of describing some of the main pain points into a few key details: the need for an electric outlet (if you're buying an electric vs. a mechanical bidet seat), the potential for leaks, and, well, the aesthetics of it all. One more detail to note is that with electric models, you're going to need an outlet within 4 feet of your toilet. Given its chunky build, the bidet is also likely to sit you up at a slight angle due to the extra hardware in the back. There some methods for correcting this, which we've shared further below.

The 5 best affordable bidet toilet seats around the web

The Tushy Classic, ($79)

If you're looking for a no-nonsense bidet, this classic mechanical model from Tushy for $79 makes for an easy install, and a simple knob that adjusts either the pressure or position of the nozzle. They also have a Spa model currently priced at $109 that includes temperature control if you want to level up.

LUXE Bidet NEO 185, ($79)

For anyone who has found themselves in a bathroom with a fully installed bidet, sometimes it can be hard to, well, aim the stream where you need it to go. The LUXE bidet is certainly not the fanciest of options, but makes up for that with personalized settings for different genders.

Brondell Lumawarm Heated Nightlight Toilet Seat, ($129)

If you want a slight upgrade from a mechanical seat at a still relatively low pricepoint, this electric seat offers a few key features—not only does it heat your seat, it also has a nightlight feature to avoid any awkward stumbling in the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Bio Bidet Ultimate BB-600, (currently $369)

This electric bidet has a luxury price point, but is lauded by a wide range of people for its almost overwhelming amount of features. According to our research, the BB-600 has a heated seat, an air warm dryer, and perhaps most importantly, settings that allow for oscillating nozzle directions, adjustable temperature and water pressure, feminine wash, and, uh, massage? Despite the fact that the overall design is a bit of an eyesore, all of these features make this product an internet fan fave.

Sonny Portable Bidet, ($99)

We wrote about this one a while back, Sonny's portable bidet designed by Box Clever—this new alternative to a traditional bidet is handheld (meaning you're going to want to disinfect it thoroughly and regularly), saving you the trouble of any kind of tricky install. Sonny has been on Indiegogo for quite some time, but says it will be available in May 2020.

How to install the bidet toilet seat

Once you're ready to install, here is a great visual guide of how to properly install different bidets from Home Depot. And don't forget for electric models, you're going to want to figure out a plan for how to plug your seat in, hopefully without a messy extension cord trailing through the length of your bathroom.


Toilet seat risers keep your seat level even with a bidet

And to account for any awkward angling of your toilet seat due to bidet install, it might be wise to also purchase some toilet seat risers to install under the front part of the toilet seat.

Happy washing!

Editors note: An earlier version of this page stated that the Sonny portable bidet will be available in April 2020—an update on their Indiegogo page states they are more likely to ship in May 2020 due to production delays caused by coronavirus.

You Know You’re an Engineer if You Played with These Toys, Part 2

Design News - Tue, 2020-03-31 05:00

 

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Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

5 Elements to a Secure Embedded System – Part #2 Root-of-Trust

Design News - Tue, 2020-03-31 03:53

In “5 Elements to a Secure Embedded System – Part 1 Hardware Based Isolation”, we started our discussion about the five essential elements required to beginning securing an embedded system. As you may recall, the five elements that every developer be looking to implement are:

  • Hardware based isolation
  • A Root-of-Trust
  • A secure boot solution
  • A secure bootloader
  • Secure storage

The main focus last time was that the system needs to have hardware-based isolation to create secure and nonsecure execution environments. In today’s post, we will continue the discussion by discussing the Root-of-Trust.

The Root-of-Trust is used to validate all the additional pieces of software that load on the system and is the first foundational link in a Chain-of-Trust that successfully boots an embedded system. (Image source: Siemens)

Element #2 – Root-of-Trust

When we power-on an embedded system and begin the boot process, we want to ensure that our embedded system boots with legitimate software. The problem that many systems face is how to determine if the first code that runs on the device is in fact their code and legitimate. The system could be booting successfully, but what happens if some piece of malware is the first thing that runs, and the rest of the software is trusting that code? This is where a Root-of-Trust comes into play.

A Root-of-Trust is an immutable process or identity which is used as the first entity in a trust chain. No ancestor entity can provide a trustable attestation (in digest or otherwise) for the initial code and data state of the Root-of-Trust. To put this another way, a Root-of-Trust for an embedded developer is an unchangeable identity and minimal software set that is able to successfully authenticate itself and facilitate secure operations on the system.

There are several key points in the definition above that we should consider. First, an immutable process or identify is something that cannot be changed. This means that when we select a microcontroller for our product, we need to ensure that we will be able to permanently “burn-in” important information that would be used by the Root-of-Trust such as a company private key. Once in the microcontroller, we do not want this information to be changeable. Second, we want to be able to attest the system. This means that I can send the system an operation to perform which it will then use its private key to sign. With access to the public key, I can then verify the operation result and the identity of the device.

Establishing a Root-of-Trust can be a bit tricky. For example, if I take a standard microcontroller and decide that I am going to use a general fused area to establish my Root-of-Trust, I am very much relying on my manufacturer that they will not share my key information and that they will not put their own Root-of-Trust on the microcontroller! While this is probably okay in many instances, we’ve all heard the horror stories about manufacturers making extra copies of a device illegitimately or even copying the intellectual property and then building essentially cloned devices. We want our Root-of-Trust to be able to protect against activities such as this and who knows if one of their employees may have other uses or ideas for our product!   

In order to avoid these types of issues, we want to create a Root-of-Trust that is hardware based and if possible, we even want the Root-of-Trust to first be established by the microcontroller vendor that we are using. If the Root-of-Trust is established by the microcontroller vendor, the moment the microcontroller is shipped it already has an immutable Root-of-Trust that is able to attest to its identity and that it came from that manufacturer! This is particularly interesting because these solutions allow us to use an existing Root-of-Trust that is verifiable to then transfer our Root-of-Trust to the device. When we transfer the Root-of-Trust to our company, we are then able to provision the microcontroller with security policies and keys that describe how the system should behave!

Establishing that Root-of-Trust is then critical because it will burn in the security settings such as:

  • Debug port enabled or disabled
  • Firmware updates allowed or not
  • Encrypted firmware updates or unencrypted

With these initial settings developers are then able to ensure that the first code they run on their system is secure, immutable and able to verify all the software that loads afterwards. This is absolutely critical to building a secure embedded system.

Conclusions

Establishing a Root-of-Trust is absolutely critical to an embedded system. The Root-of-Trust is used to validate all the additional pieces of software that load on the system and is the first foundational link in a Chain-of-Trust that successfully boots an embedded system. A Root-of-Trust should be hardware based and immutable. This ensures that the Root-of-Trust cannot be tampered with which then allows the system to detect if software loaded later can be trusted or not. Developers should be looking for microcontroller solutions that have a hardware-based Root-of-Trust built into them.

In the next part, we will discuss secure boot, what it is and what it means to developers.  

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Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost and time to market. He has published more than 200 articles on embedded software development techniques, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer, and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan. Feel free to contact him at jacob@beningo.com, at his website, and sign-up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter.