What Makes the Perfect Hardware Badge

There are only a handful of people who can say they’ve built several successful electronic badges for conferences. Voja Antonic is not just on that list, he’s among the leaders in the field. There are a lot of pressures in this type of design challenge: aesthetics, functionality, and of course manufacturability. If you want to know how to make an exposed-PCB product that will be loved by the user, you need to study Voja’s work on the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference Badge. The badge is completely open, with all the design files, firmware, and a manual on the badge project page.

Between travelling from Belgrade to Pasadena and guiding production of 300 badges across the finish line before the conference deadline Voja took ill. He made it to the conference but without a voice he asked me to give his badge design talk for him. You can check that talk out below but let’s touch briefly on why Voja’s design is so spectacular.

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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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The Three Week Three Dollar Binary Watch

There’s a Maker Faire in three weeks, and your group wants to design and build a binary watch to give to attendees. You don’t have much time, and your budget is $3 per watch. What do you do? If you are [Parker@Macrofab] you come up with a plan, buy some parts, and start prototyping.

[Parker] selected the PIC16F527 because it had enough I/O and was inexpensive. A cheap crystal and some miscellaneous discrete parts rounded out the bill of materials. Some cheap ESD straps would serve for a band. He did the prototype with a PICDEM board and immediately ran into the bane of PIC programmers: the analog comparators were overriding the digital I/O pins. With that hurdle clear, [Parker] got the rest of the design prototyped and laid a board out in Eagle.

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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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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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