The Best Conference Badge Hacking You’ve Ever Seen

72EJpM5noCVCOQOeMV74_fmZeSQKcPxiqv70JYc9psgAs with any proper hardware con, the Hackaday Supercon needed a badge, and preferably one that was electronic. This conference centered around hardware creation, and the badge was no exception.

Designed on a tight timeline, it was possible to deliver a PCB badge for the attendees but it didn’t include microcontrollers, FPGAs, or software defined radios. This blank slate was the foundation for a completely unconstrained freestyle electronics soldering session.

The front of the badge includes a matte black solder mask with Truchet tiles of traces. Put multiple badges edge-to-edge and the pattern continues indefinitely. Inside of each curved trace is a through-hole via and those makes up a grid of holes on the back of the badge. On that back side there are also two rectangular grids that presented a nice area to which hackers soldered their components.

More than a few people took up the challenge of hacking their badge, and despite a strange pitch for the through holes (0.230″), and traces that didn’t go anywhere, there were some amazing builds. I would go so far to say that the badge hacking at the Supercon was the best I’ve ever seen, and this includes DEFCON and CCC.

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Developed on Hackaday – HaDge is back to the drawing board

A couple of days back, we wrote about the HACK – a prototyping platform designed by [Michele Perla] based on the Atmel SAM R21 MCU. It’s one of the new breed of devices consisting of an ARM Cortex-M0 MCU + IEEE 802.15.4 Wireless radio bundled together. This was exciting since we could pack a lot of punch in the HaDge hardware. We planned to use the same design later to power the HaDge. Building HACK would have allowed us to get it in the hands of the software team, while the hardware folks worked on the real HaDge layout.

The HACK design was ready for review and we asked around to verify the antenna layout, which was the part we were not too sure about.  We asked Atmel for help with verifying the layout. That’s when we had the facepalm moment. They asked us – “What about FCC certification?” Since we plan to build the badges in quantities of a few hundred at the very least, it’s obvious we cannot escape from FCC certification. A design based around the R21 is ruled out – the cost of obtaining approval is pretty high. This means we need to punt the R21 and instead use an off-the-shelf radio module which is already FCC certified. Sigh.

Now the good news. This is a setback in terms of time, and effort put in by [Michele]. But beyond that, we’re good to go back to the drawing board and start afresh. First off, we decided to revert back to the Atmel D21 as the main controller. It’s a fairly decent MCU, and there’s a fairly robust tool chain available that a lot of people are familiar with. For the Radio, we are looking at some of these available options :

The last one from Microchip looks quite promising. But we’re open for better and cheaper suggestions, so please chime in with your comments.

Developed on Hackaday – It’s a Badge. No, it’s the HaDge

Sometime back, we announced start of a new project under the “Developed on Hackaday” series – a Badge for the Hackaday community. At its core, this badge is a single node in an Internet of Badges. At every event this badge is deployed at, a Hackaday Sub-Etha mesh network will be created, and each badge will be able to transmit and receive messages from other badge wearers. There are plans for an Sub-Etha to Internet gateway, so even if badge wearers are on the other side of the world, they’re still connected through the HaDge network.

Things have been moving along quickly, so I thought of doing a quick round-up and share progress with the community. First off, it has a name. HaDge, as in HackaDay Badge. Our objectives up until now were to set up a team, name the project, set up repositories and lock down on a working bill of materials. Within a few weeks, we’ve got all of that tied down. The HaDge group chat channel has been super active, and everyone’s been pitching in with ideas and suggestions. A spreadsheet seemed like a good idea – it let everyone add in their suggestions regarding candidate parts, create a feature list and then talk about it on the channel.

We realized early on that building the hardware is going to take some time. So in the interim, we need a dev kit platform to get in to the hands of the software developers so they can start working on the smarts that will power the HaDge. [Michele Perla] had already built JACK (Just another Cortex kit) – a development kit powered by the Atmel SAM D21. It’s pretty bare bone with just the bare minimum of parts to make it work while keeping an eye on reliability. The microcontroller+radio on the HaDge is the Atmel SAM R21 – a close relative of the D21, so it made sense to respin the JACK and create HACK (Hackaday Cortex kit) – a development kit powered by the Atmel SAM R21 that is going to be used as the core of the HaDge. [Michele] has worked hard single-handedly to complete the design and it is now ready to go for PCB fabrication soon. We are just awaiting some feedback and review of the Antenna part of the design. None of us on the hardware team have a strong RF-fu so we don’t want to make an avoidable mistake. If you’d like to review and help vet the HACK design, grab the design files from the github repo and let us know.

Once HACK board layout is cleared for fabrication, we’ll work on building kits that can be sent out to the software folks. We will also be working on porting the HACK design in to KiCad and this is something I have already stared work on. I started by using the neat Eagle2KiCad conversion tool by [LachlanA]. It’s not perfect, but it does reduce the work involved in porting over from Eagle to Kicad. Once that is done, hardware development for the actual HaDge will see some progress – keep a watch on the project page.

Conference Badges are the Newest Form of Hardware Art

About four decades ago, many European truck drivers started placing electronic LED badges in their windshields. Most of them were simple; nothing more than an animated heart pierced by an arrow. It became a common distraction in the highway night panorama of that time, at least until it became illegal. Most motorists became accustomed to seeing them, and the idea of the truck drivers making a statement with electronics always stuck with me. Now I have the chance to help people make a similar statement. Conference badges are not just a way to identify those who have registered, but a fashion statement and a mark of pride for conference organizers. They’ve become an art form, and engineers always want to stretch the limits of what is possible.

Every September, we have BalCCon, an international hacker’s conference at Novi Sad, Serbia. I was asked to design a badge for the 2016 event, and this is the first (well, the second) release. It is based on the PIC18LF24K50 and consists of a circle of LEDs which randomly displays pre-defined patterns. Every badge has its own infrared transceiver (LED-receiver pair), so the fun begins when two or more badges spot each other: they go from Adagio to full on Rondo, losing their default, dull visual pattern for a more dynamic, attention grabbing one, but most importantly – they synchronize. This means that, in a group of people, all badges will play the same pattern in unison. Every badge can spread the pattern code, so the whole group, however large, soon becomes synchronized. But if one of them “gets lost” somehow, it will try to learn it back from a neighbor or it might even launch into its own, randomly generated one. Sometimes it manages to spread it further and you get to witness a battle for light show domination.

This isn’t merely a story of designing badges, but of design choices that come in on budget while achieving a look that will delight those who end up wearing the hardware.

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Sex and Blinky LEDs At Burning Man

[Bunnie] was at Burning Man this year, and to illuminate his camp members in the dark and dusty nights of the playa, he created a blinky badge. This isn’t just any badge stuffed with RGB LEDs; each of the badges were unique by the end of Burning Man. These badges were made unique not by twiddling dials or pressing buttons; all the color patterns were bred with badge sex.

This social experiment to replicate nature’s most popular means of creating more nature is built around a peer to peer radio. Each badge is equipped with a radio, a circle of RGB LEDs, and a bit of code that expresses the pattern of lights on the badge as a sequence of genes. When one badge gives consent to another badge, they ‘breed’, creating a new pattern of lights. If you’re wondering about the specifics of the act, each badge is a hermaphrodite, and each badge transmits a ‘sperm’ to fertilize the other plant’s ‘egg’. There’s even a rare trait included in the genome of the badge; each badge has a 3% chance of having a white pixel that moves around the circle of LEDs. [Bunnie] found this trait was more common after a few days, suggesting that people were selectively breeding their badges.

Of course, finding potential mates is a paramount concern for any sexual organism, and the sex badge has this covered, too. The 900MHz radio listens for other badges in close proximity, and when any are found their owners are displayed on an OLED display. This came in handy for [Bunnie] more than a few times – there’s no phones out there, and simply knowing your friends are within a hundred meters or so is a big help.

The entire badge platform is documented online, along with the code and spec for badge genes. Badges with some sort of wireless communication have been around for a while, but this is the first time that communication has been used for something more than sharing contact information or implementing a chat room. It’s a great idea, and something we hope to see more of in future con badges.

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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