All the Unofficial Electronic Badges of DEF CON

2015 was the year of the unofficial hardware badge at DEF CON 23. There were a ton of different hardware badges designed for the love of custom electronics and I tried to catch up with the designer of each different badge. Here is the collection of images, video demos, and build details for each one I saw this weekend.

Whiskey Pirates

[TrueControl] did a great job with his badge design this year for the Whiskey Pirate Crew. This is a great update from the badge he designed last year, keeping the skull and bones outline. It uses a PSOC4 chip to control a ton of LEDs. The eyes are RGB pixels which are each on their own PCB that is soldered onto the back of the badge, with openings for the LED to show through. Two AA batteries power the board which has a surface-mount LED matrix. The user controls are all capacitive touch. There is a spinner around one eye, and pads for select and back. The NRF24L01 radio operates at 2.4GHz. This badge is slave to commands from last year’s badge. When the two are in the same area the 2015 badges will scroll the nickname of the 2014 badge it “sees”. The piezo element also chirps many different sounds based on the interactions with different badges.

[True] makes design an art form. The matte black solder mask looks fantastic, and he took great care in use of font, size, alignment, and things like letting copper show through for a really stunning piece of hardware art.

Keep reading for ten more great badges seen over the weekend.

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Maglev, Submersibles, and More at Maker Faire Detroit

This past weekend the Maker Faire returned to the motor city. While it seemed a bit smaller than previous years, the event still brought in a ton of awesome makers from the metro Detroit area and beyond.


Although we don’t feature too many woodworking projects, there were quite a few woodworkers at the Faire with projects ranging from custom longboards pressed with a home built iron mold to DIY kayaks with elaborate wooden skeletons built by a local group of Michigan kayak builders. The kayaks were quite impressive: hand sewn nylon panels are wrapped around custom frames made from steamed white oak. It’s great to speak with the makers about the specialized skills needed for kayak building.

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The Best Environment-related Prize Projects

Last week we challenged you to post your idea on environment-related solutions for the 2015 Hackaday Prize. We’ve gone through every entry and have chosen this week’s winners. What a tough process, there are so many interesting ideas to consider that we’ve done a round-up of some that held our attention.

Bosch Haber Process
Bosch Haber Process

Energy Saving

Conservation was at the center of these projects and [Peter Walsh] is thinking large scale to improve the Bosch-Haber process. This process is used as a source of nitrogen for fertilizers and consumes 1% of all energy worldwide. Even small efficiency advances could have a huge effect.

From profound to whimsical, [TomaCzar] has an alarming solution to leaving the lights on. We enjoy his preamble about his family moving to Earth from a planet with unlimited energy (hence their habit of leaving the lights on). He plans to add an audible alarm to any light that is switched on for more than 10 minutes.

Energy Production

Those huge solar farms that use arrays of mirrors to focus the sun’s light on a central tower leverage a techique called Concentrated Solar Power. Traditionally they store heat in a pool of liquid salt for generating power around the clock. [PUNiSH3R] has a plan to build his own on a micro-scale. The Portable Micro-CHP will use similar concepts (less the molten salt) in a package small enough to be transported by a single human.

Undeveloped parts of the planet have huge problems when it comes to bootstrapping an electrical grid. [hickss] thinks blimps might be one way to alleviate the problem. The DayBreaker project will tether blimps to the ground, with a hydrogen feed supplied through electrolysis which keeps them afloat. While high in the air they can catch higher winds using a turbine and transfer the electricity back to the ground using the same tether.

Rounding out energy producing examples is the Domestic Geothermal Stirling Power Unit. We’ve seen geothermal systems that use heat exchangers to heat or cool your home. [Shrad] ponders the idea of also using the loops of circulating fluid to feed a Stirling engine that could help supply power to the home.

Way Out There Ideas

Is this parking lot a power plant waiting to happen?
Is this parking lot a power plant waiting to happen?

There were a number of interesting concepts that we think are well worth considering and debating. It’s hard to say if these are all feasible, but tossing the ideas around is just the kind of interaction that could lead to a big breakthrough. For instance, the image seen here is a freshly paved and painted asphalt parking lot. Asphalt Heat Harvesting imagines the Peltier effect being used on a large scale by embedding metal networks between layers of the pavement. A heat differential between the surface and the base layer could produce electricity.

We’re at a loss for understanding how the Open Source Modular Absorption Refrigeration Unit actually works. It seeks to supply refrigeration using a heat source instead of electricity. The diagram looks promising and we think OSMARU is a solid acronym!

Remember The Hunt for Red October? If so, you certainly remember the caterpillar drive which made the submarine virtually silent. [N-Monkeys] wants to use that and ocean water as a generator rather than a locomotive device. Check out Project InchWorm.

This Week’s Winners


First place this week goes to Improve the Bosch-Haber process and will receive the SmartMatrix 32×32 RGB LED matrix along with a Teensy 3.1 to drive it.

Second place this week goes to DayBreaker and will receive a Bus Pirate and probe cable.

Third place this week goes to Domestic Geothermal Stirling Power Unit and will receive a Hackaday Robot Head Tee.

Congratulations to all three! We think it’s important to mention we are judging the idea on its ability to solve something affecting a wide range of people, its level of innovation, and the feasibility of the concept. There is no requirement at this point to have built anything or completed the documentation. Don’t be afraid to write down your own brainstorm… it might just win you a prize!

Next Week’s Theme

We’ll announce next week’s theme a bit later today. Don’t let that stop you from entering any ideas collection of entries may have inspired.

This week’s theme is Aging in Place. Check out the announcement post for details.

Coming up with that killer concept is a matter to thinking in different ways and interacting with other Hackers, Designers, and Engineers to help make the mental leap to greatness!

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Your Marble Machine Doesn’t Need to Change the World

It’s easy to get sucked into the increasing the complexity when sometimes the craftsmanship can be what makes the project. [Alex Weber] proves the point with his minimalist marble machine. There are no death-defying twists and turns, no convoluted path forks or overly-complex lifting mechanisms. This is about a clean and simple design that looks amazing whether running or stationary.

For the uninitiated, marble machines route marbles (or quite often steel ball bearings) through a set of paths usually guided by gravity for the delight of onlookers. Traditionally, making them complicated is the point. Take this offering which highlights years worth of marble machine builds all exercising different concepts. Sometimes they occupy entire rooms. We’ve seen them make a clock tick. And who can forget marble-based flip-flops that combine to form things like binary adders?

Have we scared you off from building these yourself yet? No, that’s the entire point of this one… it can be excruciatingly simple, while elegantly crafted. Check out the video demo below to see how one oval, one battery, and one motor have no problem bringing a smile to your face.

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2015 THP Inspiration: Renewable Energy

Most of our energy comes from dead algae or dead ferns right now, and we all know that can’t continue forever. The future is by definition sustainable, and if you’re looking for a project to change the world for this year’s Hackaday Prize, you can’t do better than something to get the world off carbon-based fuels.

mhqyqz7The simplest solar builds can be as fun as a redneck hot tub – a solar thermal water heater repurposed into a heated swimming pool with the help of a pump and JB Weld. You can even build a hose-based version for $100. They can be as useful as a Maximum Power Point Tracking charger for a solar setup – a few bits of electronics that ensure you’re getting the most out of your solar cells. You can, of course, access solar power in a roundabout way with a wind generator built from a washing machine and a 555 timer.

carben-mainGetting energy from the sun is one thing, and putting it to use is another thing entirely. We spend a lot of energy on transportation, and for that there’s a solar power bike, an electric scooter, or a completely open source electric car.

Building the machines that make sustainable energy possible or even just the tools that will let us use all that energy are just a few ideas that would make great entries for The Hackaday Prize. You could go another direction and build the tools that will build and maintain these devices, like figuring out a way to keep these batteries and generators out of the landfill. Any way you look at it, anything that actually matters  would make a great entry to The Hackaday Prize.

2015 THP Inspiration: The Environment

It’s not as flashy as Tesla coils or electric vehicles going 200 mph, but the environment is more important than a bunch of cool baubles and sparks flying everywhere. When it comes to this year’s Hackaday Prize, you’re going to need a project that matters, and what’s a better way to do it than with something to help the environment?

While not traditionally a domain that rocks people’s socks, there are a lot of cool builds that can help the environment like this hyperspectral imager that’s a mashup of a spectrometer and a camera, or something that takes an image of an object, complete with the spectral data of each pixel. It’s useful for everything from farming, to forestry, to medicine.

aquaponicsPerhaps you want to get your hands messy by mucking about in the dirt. You’ll probably find something interesting to build for this year’s Hackaday Prize, like the modular farmer’s market we saw in Detroit last year. How about an urban farming and aquaponics setup? Tilapia do well in giant buckets, you know.

If robots are more your speed, then how about an RC tractor or an entire robotic farm? You could always eradicate invasive plants with a quadcopter if flying around is more suited to your expertise. There are plenty of ways to do something that matters for this year’s Hackaday prize, but we’d be lying if we had all the answers. That’s where you come in with your entry for The Hackaday Prize.