Other Embedded Systems

Josef Průša is appreciated for his open-source fused deposition 3D printers, He is shown here at the Prusa Research 3D printfarm, in Prague, Czech Republic. Being open-source means that the designs are available for anyone to use or modify. A 3D printer is a typical example of an embedded system, a product with a microprocessor inside. Photo Josef Průša.

In this weblog post, the focus is on you – as a user and maker of products containing microprocessors and software programs, and ensuring that these products meet your specific needs. While people may not currently have all of the skills they need to make what they want, skills can be learned.

Throughout my teaching career, I have had the fortune to meet many disillusioned pupils, both at a conventional secondary school, as well as in a Norwegian prison. While I find these pupils challenging, they have most often not failed themselves, as they have been failed by an educational system that is determined to compartmentalize/ standardize learning experiences, and create cookie cutter automatons out of living and feeling human beings. Thus, I delighted in taking on their specific circumstances to ensure that they could create for themselves something meaningful out of the limited educational opportunity I could provide them.

In particular, I remember two young women who were totally bored with the academic program imposed on them. They just wanted to get through it, so they could take higher education, become nurses and productive members of society. Instead, they were having to spend hours a week studying Norwegian literature, and other equally boring subjects. They decided to enroll in my technology class.

Since they both worked (part-time) at the municipal nursing home, they were well aware of the needs of live-in patients as well as out-patients. In the end they designed a prototype of an automated pill dispenser, for out-patients living at home. This prototype used an Arduino microcontroller. It is my belief that this experience allowed them to preserve their sanity, that had been seriously challenged by, for them, irrelevant writers of a long past, and forgotten age.

One of the most important elements in a technology workshop is the role of design. The essence of design is to specify how something is to be made, even if one cannot make anything oneself,

Suggestion: Spend today, or even longer, thinking of what you need, that is not being provided, or – if it is – has so many defects, that an improved version would suit you better. When you are ready, tomorrow or next year or ???,

STOP the Press! A pandemic has struck, and much of the content written for this post has become irrelevant!

Pre-pandemic considerations

The focus was to be on you using community based, technological workshops. These have many names, including hacker/ maker spaces. The one I know best is the Teknoverksted ved Spiren, the Technology workshop at Spiren = the Sprout.

They may be located inside a school or library. Alternatively, they may a separate entity, that is publicly or privately funded/ operated. Regardless, they provide facilities for learning and making, that use anything from no tech through old tech to high tech tools. These spaces are typically open to youth and adults. In alphabetical order, equipment may include 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters, knitting needles, scissors, sewing machines, soldering irons, table saws and welders.

They provide. a collaborative working environment. People spend their time learning and making. Hopefully, they then go on, teaching and helping others to make. Thus, over time, the skill base of the workshop improves, people with experience make more sophisticated products, when these are appropriate.

One of the first of these workshops was Fab Lab started by Neil Gershenfeld at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is a small-scale workshop offering digital fabrication, or “a technical prototyping platform for innovation and invention, providing stimulus for local entrepreneurship.  It is also a platform for learning and innovation: a place to play, to create, to learn, to mentor, to invent.”One major problem with the Fab Lab concept, is the extensive and costly list of equipment these labs are expected to provide.

Pandemic considerations

During the pandemic, one main concern is mental health. Some people need more help than others to survive through it. Take the weaker sex, men, as an example. Compared with women, men live shorter lives, have worse health, suffer 70% of injuries, commit 75% of suicides, access health services less and delay seeking health services more, spend less time with doctors, focus on physical problems, avoid discussing mental and emotional problems and …. The Men’s Shed movement as a mechanism for resolving some of these issues has been discussed in a previous weblog post.

Single people are especially exposed. It may be hard keeping one’s sanity living with someone, but it is more difficult when one lives alone, and every effort is being made to eliminate social contacts at work and play. Zoom meetings are not a suitable replacement.

During the pandemic, there are also large groups of people who are suffering more than others because of poverty.

Teaching technical skills works best in small groups, ideally individually. Even if workshops are shut down, small groups can meet. The size of the group can vary from two to, say, five. Outdoor, socially distanced events should be possible, augmented with individual on-line meetings. Those who have the technical skills for making embedded systems, are encouraged to seek out those who are most impacted by the pandemic, and help them learn new skills, or provide them with relevant embedded products.

As noted below, the upcoming post, Tidepool (2020-12-15) is devoted to automated insulin dosing, much of it involving embedded systems designed and made by amateurs.

Post-pandemic considerations

As this is written (2020-11-10) an 90% effective C-19 vaccine has been announced by Pfizer. Its main disadvantage is that it has to be stored at extremely cold temperatures. Then (2020-11-16) Moderna announced a 95% effective C-19 vaccine, with significantly reduced storage requirements. This post will be updated with further information when it is , regarding a post-pandemic world.

Upcoming changes:

Originally, the schedule of weblog posts in this series was: 8. Visual impairment (2020-11-24); 9. Hearing impairment (2020-12-01); 10. Dexterity impairment (2020-12-08); 11. Mobility impairment (2020-12-15), and 12. Computing: A Summary (2020-12-22). This has been changed to the following: Sensory impairing 2020-11-24) – which combines hearing and visual impairment; Dexterity/ Mobility impairment (2020-12-01); Telemedicine (2020-12-08) – which looks at telemedicine generally; Tidepool (2020-12-15) – which examines automated insulin dosing.

Update: On 2020-12-13 at 12:30, Tidepool (2020-12-15) has been changed to Nightscout. It still examines automated insulin dosing.