The Best Conference Badge Of 2017 Is A WiFi Lawn

It’s February, conference season hasn’t even started yet, and already there’s a winner of the best electronic badge of the year. For this year’s MAGfest, [CNLohr] and friends distributed 2,000 ESP8266-based swag badges.

These custom #badgelife badges aren’t. Apparently, MAGFest wouldn’t allow [CNLohr] to call these devices ‘badges’. Instead, these are ‘swadges’, a combination of swag and badges.  On board theses swadges is an ESP-12, a quartet of RGB LEDs, and buttons for up, down, left, right, A, B, Select, and Start. The swadge is powered by two AA batteries (sourced from Costco of all places), and by all accounts the badge was a complete success.

[CNLohr] is one of the great ESP8266 experts out there, and one of the design goals of this badge is to have all of these swadges communicate over raw WiFi frames. This turned out to be a great idea – using normal WiFi infrastructure with two thousand badges saturated the spectrum. The control system for was simply three badges, one per WiFi channel, that tells all the badges to change the color of the LEDs.

The swadge was a complete success, but with a few hundred blinkey glowey WiFi devices, you know [CNLohr] is going to come up with something cool. This time, he turned his lawn into a rave. About 175 swadges were laid out on the lawn, all controlled by a single controller swadge. The color of the LEDs on each swadge in the yard changes in response to the WiFi signal strength. By swinging the controller badge around his head, [CNLohr] turned his yard into a disco floor of swirling blinkieness. It looks awesome, although it might not visualize WiFi signals as well as some of [CNLohr]’s other ESP hacks.

This is a fantastic build and was well received by everyone at MAGFest. Be sure to check out the videos below, they truly show off the capabilities of this really cool piece of wearable hardware.

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Hackaday Links: January 8, 2017

What do you get when mindless automatons with no capacity for reason or logic converse? While you discuss that in the comments, here are two chatbots on Twitch. The highlights? A few hours ago they were doing the cutesy couple, “‘I love you more!’, ‘No, I love you more!'” thing. This was ended by, “Error, cannot connect to server.” Even robot love is not eternal.

3D printer nozzles wear out. Put a few hundred hours on a brass nozzle, and you’re not going to get the same print quality as when you started. This has led to stainless and silly-con carbide nozzles. Now there’s a ruby nozzle. It’s designed by [Anders Olsson], the same guy who’s using an Ultimaker to print neutron shielding. This guy is a nuclear engineer, and he knows his stuff. This is a nozzle designed to not grind contaminants into extruded plastic, and it looks cool, too.

This is the eighth day of the year, but the guild of independent badge makers of DEF CON are already hard at work. AND!XOR is working on the DC25 badge, that promises to be bigger, badder, and more Bender. I’m loving the Hunter S. Bender theme.

Anyone can design a PCB, but how do you panelize multiple PCBs? There’s a lot to consider – routing, mouse bites, and traces for programming the board while still panelized. This is the best solution we’ve seen. It’s a GUI that allows you to organize Gerbers on a panel, rotate them, add routes and cutouts, and generally do everything a board house does. It’s all Open Source and everything is available on GitHub.

[ducksauz] found a very old ‘computer trainer’ on eBay. It’s a DEC H-500, built to explain the basics of digital electronics and semiconductors to a room full of engineering students. It is an exceptionally beautiful piece of equipment with lovely hand-drawn traces and ‘surface mounted’ 7400 chips mounted on the back side.

Solving Hackaday’s Crypto Challenge

Although I’ve been to several DEF CONs over the past few years, I’ve never found time to devote to solving the badge. The legendary status of all the puzzles within are somewhat daunting to me. Likewise, I haven’t yet given DefCon DarkNet a try either — a real shame as the solder-your-own-badge nature of that challenge is right up my alley.

But finally, at the Hackaday SuperCon I finally got my feet wet with the crypto challenge created by [Voja Antonic]. He developed a secondary firmware which anyone could easily flash to their conference badge (it enumerates as a USB thumb drive so just copy it over). This turned it into a five-puzzle challenge meant to take two days to solve, and it worked perfectly.

If you were at the con and didn’t try it out, now’s the time (you won’t be the only one late to the game). But even if you weren’t there’s still fun to be had.

Thar’ be spoilers below. I won’t explicitly spill the answers, but I will be discussing how each puzzle is presented and the different methods people were using to finish the quest. Choose now if you want to continue or wait until you’ve solved the challenge on your own.

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The Hacks And Puzzles Of The Hackaday SuperCon Badge

The greatest hardware conference is right around the corner. We would be remiss if the Hackaday SuperConference badge wasn’t the greatest electronic badge in history, and we think we have something special here. We’ve already taken a look at the hardware behind this year’s badge, and now it’s time to take a look at the challenges for this year’s Hackaday SuperCon.

The Puzzles

A conference badge isn’t good unless there are a few puzzles to solve, and the 2016 Hackaday SuperCon badge doesn’t come up short. Hidden behind an accelerometer-based gravity simulation, a moving message display, a Tetris clone, and an infrared communications protocol are a series of five challenges. The first SuperCon attendee to beat the challenge will be awarded a fantastic cash prize of $256 and win the respect of their peers.
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Design and Hacking Drilldown: SuperCon Badge

One can imagine a political or business conference without an interactive badge — but not a hacker conference. Does this make the case for hackers being a special breed of people, always having something creative to show for their work? Yes, I think it does.

Following the Hackaday Belgrade conference in April of this year, we met at the Supplyframe offices to discuss the badge for the Hackaday SuperConference that will happen in Pasadena on 5+6th of November. The Belgrade conference badge (which was fully documented if you’re curious) was surprisingly popular, and I was asked to design the new one as well.

I was prepared to come up with something completely new, but [Mike Szczys] suggested keeping with the same basic concept for the project: “No reason to change anything, we have a badge that works”. To which I responded: “Well, the next one will also work”. But then I realized that “works” does not stand for “being functional”. The key is that it was embraced by visitors who played with it, coded on it, and solved a crypto challenge with it.

The World Doesn’t Have Enough LEDs

led-modules-versus-smdFast forward six months — here are the modifications made to the basic concept. First, the existing LED matrix, which was composed of two compact 8×8 blocks, was replaced by 128 discrete SMD LEDs. It was a much needed change to help scale down the dimensions and clunkiness, but also to avoid another painful experience of trying to purchase and have the matrix displays shipped, which seriously threatened the production of the previous badge.

It’s a long story which I discussed in my Belgrade talk — it turned out we did not manage to get enough common anode (CA) displays from all distributors in the whole world. We had a plan B, which also fizzled, leaving us with the plan C which actually included two “C”s: Common Cathode. We cleaned up all the supplies at five distributors, and managed to get 122 CA red, 340 CC red and 78 CA green displays (enough for only 270 badges) — the entire world supply. After that, you couldn’t get any 38 mm Kingbright’s display for months! The only problem was that there were two different versions of PCBs, one for CA and the other for CC displays, but luckily only one version of software, as it could autodetect the display type.

accelerometer-on-the-boardMotion and Expansion

So, what else was new in the concept? In the Belgrade version, the badge supported an accelerometer module and included an unpopulated footprint in case you decided to install it, but now the badge has the MEMS chip LIS3 as an integral part. There are nine pads (with five I/O ports, driven directly from the MCU) to which you can add a 9-pin expansion connector. There will be a number of these connectors at the Design Lab, so that anyone can expand their badge for their convenience, on the spot.

The Visual Design

The biggest change was in the visual design. What we came up with ended up being a fair bit smaller, lighter, with a more convenient shape, and less than half the thickness of the previous one. After we had scrapped quite a few ideas during the development process (including stylized skull, frog, etc), we were left with a couple of options which you can see on the image below. The wireframe drawing on the left hand side is the Belgrade badge, shown here for a size comparison. At this point the locale and date of the conference weren’t yet definitive, which is why you see San Francisco written on the images.


Design number 4 prevailed, so the PCB layout could begin. I don’t like autorouted PCBs, so I was in for quite a rough time trying to solve the routing manually having only 2 layers on the board at my disposal.

Routing a Compact LED Matrix

The LED matrix is so dense that there was virtually no room on the LED layer, so most of the tracks on the component layer had to be routed as if it was a single layer PCB. To make matters worse, the LED layer is routed as a matrix, with a bunch of horizontal and vertical tracks, otherwise a good reason to use a 4-layer PCB. To stay inside the budget, everything had to be placed on 2 layers, and that’s why the final result seems so confusing at the populated area between batteries:

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New SuperCon Badge is 40% Lighter and a Work of Art

The 2016 Hackaday SuperConference is just around the corner and today we get a good look at the hardware badge. It was designed by [Voja Antonic] — a legend of hardware creation who will be at the conference. I like to think of him as the Woz of the Eastern Bloc, having designed the Galaksija computer. This badge is a beautiful example of embedded design. We’ll dive into all of the details after the break.

Get your ticket now for 48-hours of talks, workshops, the Hackaday Prize party, badge hacking,  and so much more.

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