UPDATE: The director’s cut of the story
While coverage of the official Defcon badge has been pretty heavy, there was a badge that was far more exclusive and talked about way more. For the last ten years at Defcon a group of hackers known as Ninja Networks hosted an invitation-only party for selected attendees. For the 2009 event, [cstone] and [w0z] created an electronic badge which acted as the ticket to the party. The badge is based around an 8-bit Freescale microcontroller (MC9S08QE8) which drives 10 individual 16-segment HIOX-format LED displays.
The custom PCBs were manufactured by 4pcb, but all other assembly was done by hand with a huge team of volunteers in Boston, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Assembly space for this effort was provided by Redwire and Angel Valley Media. More than 500 badges were created. To help fund the effort, the Ninjas took on internet privacy company XeroBank as an event sponsor.
The assembly process is detailed in the video below which highlights a few interesting DIY techniques including using a $30 Target hotplate as a reflow oven.
Once assembled, the default mode for the badge is to randomly cycle each display through a list of characters locking in each one to finally display “NINJA PARTY”, in the same manner seen in the film “WarGames”. The badge also has a “Simon” game mode, the ability to view the badge’s unique identifier and sponsor URL, and a fully functional debugger.
Using the debugger a user can reprogram the badge to display different messages, or change it’s functionality with no computer required. This is demoed in the video below.
While all the badges were distributed at Defcon 17, [cstone] has provided the schematics and gerbers, public domain source code, and the BOM in case you wish to create your own. We were some of the many people to help hand assemble these badges, which you can find listed on his site.