Building a DEF CON Badge in Two Weeks

DEF CON is starting right now, and this is the year of #badgelife. For the last few years, independent hardware wizards have been creating and selling their own unofficial badges at DEF CON, but this year it’s off the charts. We’ve already taken a look at Bender Badges, BSD Puffer Fish, and the worst idea for a conference badge ever, and this is only scratching the surface.

This is also a banner year for the Hackaday / Tindie / Supplyframe family at DEF CON. We’re on the lookout for hardware. We’re sponsoring the IoT village, [Jasmine] — the high priestess of Tindie — and I will be spending some time in the Hardware Hacking Village, praising our overlords and saying the phrase, ‘like Etsy, but for electronics’ far too much. We’ll be showing people how to solder, fixing badges, and generally being helpful to the vast unwashed masses.

Obviously, this means we need our own unofficial DEF CON badge. We realized this on July 10th. That gave us barely more than two weeks to come up with an idea for a badge, design one, order all the parts, wait on a PCB order, and finally kit all the badges before lugging them out to DEF CON. Is this even possible? Surprisingly, yes. It’s almost easy, and there are zero excuses for anyone not to develop their own hardware badge for next year’s con.

Continue reading “Building a DEF CON Badge in Two Weeks”

DEF CON Badgelife: Someone Finally Did It

Badgelife is the celebration of electronic conference badges, a way of life that involves spending far too much time handling the logistics of electronics manufacturing, and an awesome hashtag on Twitter. Badgelife isn’t a new thing; it’s been around for a few years, but every summer we see a massive uptick in the lead up to Def Con.

For the last few years, the designers and engineers deep into Badgelife have had the same conversation dozens of times. One person says, “you know, someone should build a badge that’s a quadcopter.” Another person replies, “Can you imagine how annoying that would be? You’d be putting ten thousand people in a room during the closing ceremonies at DefCon, and a few dozen people would have quadcopters. It would be horrible” Yes, there have been plans to build a quadcopter badge for the last few years, but cooler heads prevailed.

Someone finally did it. The wearable electronic conference badge that’s also a quadcopter is finally here. It’s the work of [b1un7], and it’s going to be exactly as annoying as you would expect.

This badge is actually two PCBs, the first being the quadcopter itself, the second being the joystick/controller. The quad is shaped like the familiar jolly roger found in most Whiskey Pirate badges ([b1un7] hangs with that crew), and the controller is a pirate’s treasure map loaded up with joysticks, buttons, and radios. The motors for this quad appear to be brushed, not brushless, and it looks like the arms of the quad have some space for obnoxiously bright LEDs.

This is an awesome badge but it’s still [b1un7]’s first attempt at making a badge. Right now, there’s still a bit of work to do — there’s only one week until Defcon — but with any luck [b1un7] will have 25 of these wearable electronic conference badges buzzing around. It’s a terrible idea and we love it.

Friday Hack Chat: BadgeLife

For the last few years at DEF CON, we’ve seen the emergence of an entire community of badge creators. These aren’t official badges — good news, since the official DEF CON badge will probably be an unpuzzling piece of laser cut acrylic this year. Lucky for us this is the biggest year yet for independent electronic badges. This is BadgeLife, the fine art of designing and building hundreds of badges for eager conference goers.

This Friday, we’ll be hosting a Hack Chat with a few of the folks tapped into BadgeLife. [Whitney Merrill], lawyer, hacker, and overseer of the Crypto & Privacy village will be joining us talking about this year’s badge, the puzzle she designed, and what BadgeLife really means. Also joining us will be [Karl Koscher], research scientist and co-organizer of the Crypto and Privacy village.

Also on deck will be the creators of this year’s Bender Badge. Last year, AND!XOR created one of the most popular electronic conference badges in recent memory. This year, the Bender Badge is getting an upgrade with Blast Processing, a quart of tequila, and two dozen amyls.

We’re proud to note that has become an unofficial repository for all the best badges from the BadgeLife community. The Hunter S. Rodriguez badge is on there, as is the Ides of DEF CON. As the creator of the most innovative and desirable badge this year, I will also be attending this Hack Chat discussing the trials and tribulations of developing and shipping hardware on a very condensed schedule.

While the focus of this BadgeLife Hack Chat is developing electronic conference badges for DEF CON, it could have easily been called ‘Electronic Design’. There’s a massive amount of work that goes into each of these badges from design to production, and all of it is highly relevant to any hardware developer.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, July 14th. Confused about where and when ‘noon’ is? Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

DEF CON BadgeLife: Blinky Bling

This is the biggest year yet for unofficial electronic conference badges. We’re calling it the year of Badgelife, and for the next few weeks, we’re going to be taking a look at the unofficial conference badges being deployed at this year’s DEF CON.

[Mr Blinky Bling] a.k.a. [Benn Hibben] has created his own badge for this year’s con. On board is a bunch of LEDs, WiFi, and capacitive buttons. It’s a WiFi badge for all your AP scanning and deauth needs. The electronics for this badge are a bit more complicated than simply throwing an ESP8266 on a board and calling the design done. The capacitive touch functionality is being handled by an ATTiny88, the OLED display is handled by an ATMega32U4, wireless functions are done with an ESP8266, and there are a few bits and bobs for a LiPo battery.

This WiFi Badge is the focus of an astonishingly successful Kickstarter (ending in just a few hours), and [Mr Blinky Badge] already has enough backers to move 200 badges. This is really a spectacular amount of work; it’s one thing to build a single prototype for an electronic conference badge, but it’s another matter entirely to put a badge into production, source all the parts, handle the assembly, and finally ship all these badges to Kickstarter backers and conference attendees.

If the challenge of building and deploying hundreds of electronic conference badges sounds like fun, you’re in luck. This Friday, we’ll be hosting a Hack Chat with some of the creators of this year’s unofficial DEF CON badge creators. There’s a lot you can learn from these folks, and a lot of very cool badges that will make an appearance at this year’s Def Con.

DEF CON Badgelife: The Puffy That Runs Linux

DEF CON is canceled again this year, and this time that statement is at least partially true. There will be no special official badges this year. There is no challenge or mystery embedded in the official DC badge. This is the year that unofficial badges from villages and random attendees finally supersedes the official offering. This is badgelife, and for the next few weeks, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the unofficial badges of DEF CON.

The idea for [dorkengine]’s Puffy badge began last year with the so-called Bender badges from AND!XOR.  Chalk this up to a story that ends with, ‘but you had to have been there’, but the Bender badges were wildly popular, sold like hotcakes, and were an astonishing success of independent badge craft at DC. [dorkengine] decided to get in on the action and build his own badge for DC 25.

The design of the Puffy badges is based on a highly stylized rendering of the OpenBSD logo and mascot. Why a pufferfish with Kardashian lips? [dorkengine] has a bunch of boxes in a closet running OpenBSD, and that’s a good enough reason for us.

An electronic badge must do something, and the feature list [dorkengine] came up with included some sort of wireless connectivity, hackability, a serial console, blinkenlights, and some sort of *nix-ish OS. OpenBSD didn’t make the cut, but [dorkengine] eventually stumbled upon the VoCore2, a tiny System on Module that runs Linux, has WiFi and a few GPIOs, and is barely an inch on a side.

After getting a good deal on a large order of VoCores, [dorkengine] started on the PCB. The circuit was simple enough with just a VoCore attached to a USB port, power adapter, and a few LEDs. The Puffy rendering translated beautifully into soldermask and silkscreen, and after a prototype from ITEAD Studio, [dorkengine] had 40 PCBs that worked perfectly.

So, what is [dorkengine] going to do with a box full of Puffy badges? He’ll be selling them for $40 around the con. That’s surprisingly inexpensive for a large PCB soldered to a $17 SoC. If you want to get your grubby mitts on one, you could email him or ping him on Twitter. Of course, if you want to make your own, [dorkengine] has the KiCad files and software available, but at this point, you’re looking at a very fast turnaround for a board house.

Zombie Badges Take Over Security Con

We can’t get enough of hacker-con badges. BSides Cape Town, held Last December, featured an IR-equipped badge that immersed attendees in a game while they chatted.

A group led by [AndrewMohawk] and [ElasticNinja] designed the badge around an ESP8266 and 128×64 OLED display, with eight buttons, an IR receiver and transmitter, five “level” LEDs, an RGB LED, and a 600 mAh LiPo that charged over USB.

The hardware was designed specifically to play an organic game so that the organizers could watch the interaction between the badges in real time. Each badge was randomly sorted into a faction, either red, blue, or green—identifiable by an RGB LED glowing on the badge. There was also a series of five LEDs signifying your level in the game. When two or more badges got close to each other, enough for the IR to link, the badge with the lowest level was converted to the faction of the winner.

Of course, the badge displayed attendees’ handles and contained a list of convention programming. It also presented attendees with a series of challenges, which could be unlocked to play Pong or Rock/Paper/Scissors/Lizard/Spock, scan for wireless networks, and run animations.

Continue reading “Zombie Badges Take Over Security Con”

Hacking the Thotcon 0x8 Badge

[Kenjo] attended Chicago’s Thotcon this past week and has started hacking the convention badge and detailing what he learned. Thotcon’s badge, designed by [Jedha] and programmed by [John Wallis] of Workshop 88, is packed with the requisite electronic hardware and cryptic clues. There are four NeoPixel LEDs, three pots, and a micro USB, all run by an ATmega32u4.

The stock firmware is a game called tesserHack, a maze game using the three pots for navigation. You can also connect via USB to play through the serial console, and this version includes a map view and help menu.

[Kenjo] who previously hacked the Thotcon 0x6 badge, accidentally deleted the stock firmware on this year’s badge, so he used a Bus Pirate as an ISP to burn the Arduino boot loader back on, and has started mapping out the pots and LEDs. If you’re interested in helping out, check out the project on [Thanks, gigawatts]