Because Burning Man Needed More LEDs

There are a lot of blinky glowy things at Burning Man every year, and [Mark] decided he would literally throw his hat into the ring. He built a high visibility top hat studded with more RGB LEDs than common sense would dictate. It’s a flashy hat, and a very good example of the fashion statement a few hundred LEDs can make.

[Mark]’s top hat has 481 WS2812b addressable LEDs studded around the perimeter, a common LED choice for bright and blinky wearables. These LEDs are driven by a Teensy 3.1, with a Bluetooth transceiver, a GPS module, a compass, and gyro/accelerometer attached to the microcontroller. That’s a lot of hardware, but it gives [Mark] the capability of having the hat react to its own orientation, point itself North, and allow for control via a modified Nintendo NES controller.

The WS2812 LEDs draw a lot of power, and for any wearable project having portable power is a chief concern. [Mark]’s original plan was to use an 8x battery holder for the electronics enclosure, and use five AA batteries to power the hat. The total idle draw of the LEDs was 4.5 Watts, and with even a few LEDs blinking colors there was a significant voltage drop. The idea of powering the hat with AA batteries was discarded and the power source was changed to a 195 Watt-hour lithium ion battery bank that was topped off each day with a solar panel.

The hat is awesome, exceedingly bright, and something that gets a lot of attention everywhere  it goes. For indoor use, it might be too bright, but this could be fixed with the addition of a bit of black stretchy fabric, like what our own [Mike Szczys] did for his DEF CON hat. [Mark]’s hat is just version 1, and he plans on making a second LED hat for next year.

Becoming A Zombie with the Hackable Electronic Badge

Last week, Parallax released an open hackable electronic badge that will eventually be used at dozens of conferences. It’s a great idea that allows badge hacks developed during one conference to be used at a later conference.

[Mark] was at the Hackable Electronics Badge premier at the 2015 Open Hardware Summit last weekend, and he just finished up the first interactive hack for this badge. It’s the zombie apocalypse in badge form, pitting humans and zombies against each other at your next con.

The zombie survival game works with the IR transmitter and receiver on the badge normally used to exchange contact information. Upon receiving the badge, the user chooses to be either a zombie or survivor. Pressing the resistive buttons attacks, heals, or infects others over IR. The game is your standard zombie apocalypse affair: zombies infect survivors, survivors attack zombies and heal the infected, and the infected turn into zombies.

Yes, a zombie apocalypse is a simple game for a wearable with IR communications, but for the Hackable Electronics Badge, it’s a great development. There will eventually be tens of thousands of these badges floating around at cons, and having this game available on day-one of a conference will make for a lot of fun.

The Open, Hackable Electronic Conference Badge

Electronic conference badges have been around for at least a decade now, and they all have the same faults. They’re really only meant to be used for a few days, conference organizers and attendees expect the badge to be cheap, and because of the nature of a conference badge, the code just works, and documentation is sparse.  Surely there’s a better way.

Enter the Hackable Electronic Badge. Ever since Parallax started building electronic conference badges for DEF CON, they’ve gotten a lot of requests to build badges for other conventions. Producing tens of thousands of badges makes Parallax the go-to people for your conference badge needs, but the requests for badges are always constrained by schedules that are too short, price expectations that are too low, and volumes that are unknown.

There’s a market out there for electronic conference badges, and this is Parallax’s solution to a recurring problem. They’re building a badge for all conferences, and a platform that can be (relatively) easily modified while still retaining all its core functionality.

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Mechanical Watch Hacker Gets an Apple Watch

Mechanical watch enthusiasts see the Apple watch as a threat to the traditional gear train. It does not tick, requires frequent re-charging, and it’s certainly not the most attractive of watches. But it can direct you to the local coffee shop, allow you to communicate with friends anywhere in the world, get you onto an airplane after the most awkward of arm gestures, and keep you apprised of the latest NCAA basketball scores. Is the advent of the smart watch the end to the mechanical watch?
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Jellyfish Inspired LED Skirt for Burning Man

[Lumilectric] is getting ready for Burning Man and made herself this fantastic fiber optic LED skirt.

She’s always been fascinated by fiber optics and the effect they create, so she wanted to try using them in a project, and this was just the ticket. The tricky part was figuring out how best to couple cheap fiber optic strands off eBay with a strip of RGB LEDs.

In the end she figured out a way to make rudimentary fiber optic coupling joints using vinyl tubing. She managed to fit 17 strands of 0.5mm diameter fiber into a 6mm diameter vinyl tube. To improve light transfer when it’s all together, you can gently melt the ends of the fiber optics together to glaze the plastic into a single clear surface — don’t melt the vinyl though!

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It’s Time to Roll Your Own Smartwatch

Giant wristwatches are so hot right now. This is a good thing, because it means they’re available at many price points. Aim just low enough on the scale and you can have a pre-constructed chassis for building your own smartwatch. That’s exactly what [benhur] did, combining a GY-87 10-DOF module, an I²C OLED display, and an Arduino Pro Mini.

The watch uses one button to cycle through its different modes. Date and time are up first, naturally. The next screen shows the current temperature, altitude, and barometric pressure. Compass mode is after that, and then a readout showing your step count and kilocalories burned.

In previous iterations, the watch communicated over Bluetooth to Windows Phone, but it drew too much power. With each new hardware rev, [benhur] made significant strides in battery life, going from one hour to fourteen to a full twenty-fours.

Take the full tour of [benhur]’s smartwatch after the break. He’s open to ideas for the next generation, so share your insight with him in the comments. We’d like to see some kind of feedback system that tells us when we’ve been pounding away at the Model M for too long.  Continue reading “It’s Time to Roll Your Own Smartwatch”

DEF CON Uber Badge so Hot It’s Radioactive

I went to the Opening Ceremonies of DEF CON 23 this morning to get more information on the badge challenge and I was not disappointed. The talk covered the Uber badge, which is hot in a literally radioactive sense. This badge, which is also known as the black badge, is reserved for people who are first to solve one of the official DEF CON challenges. It grants lifetime free admission and opens just about any door when listed on your resume.

Lichtenberg Figures

The triangle of acrylic itself is adorned with Lichtenberg Figures. This is a bolt of lightning on the badge. By building up extremely high voltages, the discharge leaves a unique pattern. In this case it was a 5 million volt, 150 kW particle accelerator that made the figures.

There is a medallion affixed to this triangular base-plate which is obviously part of the puzzle everyone is trying to solve this weekend. What is less clear is how the radioactive isotopes of this badge play into this challenge.

Whoa, oh, oh, oh, I’m Radioactive, Radioactive

Trinitie Photo by Shaddack -  CC BY 3.0
Trinitie Photo by Shaddack – CC BY 3.0

[LoST] took inspiration from [Richard Feynman] to a new level with this badge. [Feynman] was involved with “The Gadget” experiment which I know better as Trinity, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon. This badge contains isotopes from that detonation.

Trinitite (get it, from the Trinity explosion?) is a green glassy substance generated from a Plutonium-based bomb explosion. [LoST] made a point of explaining that the samples of Trinitite in this badge create a unique radioactive signature that not only traces back to this explosion, but actually indicates a precise distance form the epicenter of the explosion.

Also embedded in the badge are glass spheres doped with 3% Uranium 238. Tritium, used in exit signs, is a third source of radioactivity on the badge. This is joined by another marker that is a combination of Uraninite, Pitchblende, Carnotite, Gummit, and Yellowcake.

Interesting story, Tritium is highly regulated in this country but it is hypothetically possible to import it from Europe by a seller who ships it sealed inside packets of coffee. Hypothetically.

The opening ceremonies talk concluded with some inspirational remarks from [Dark Tangent]. Pictures of that as well as a few of [L0ST’s] slides are found below. If you’re working on the badge challenge, join in on the collaborative Badge deciphering we’ve started on If you’re at DEF CON, make sure to show up for breakfast with us on Sunday.

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