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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LayerOne Hardware Hacking Village

Go to DEFCON and you’ll stand in line for five hours to get a fancy electronic badge you’ll be showing to your grandchildren some day. Yes, at DEFCON, you buy your hacker cred. LayerOne is not so kind to the technically inept. At LayerOne, you are given a PCB, bag of parts, and are told to earn your hacker cred by soldering tiny QFP and SOT-23 chips by hand. The Hardware Hacking Village at LayerOne was packed with people eagerly assembling their badge, or badges depending on how cool they are.

The badges are designed by [charlie x] of null space labs, one of the many local hackerspaces around the area. The design and construction of these badges were documented on the LayerOne Badge project on, and they’re probably best con badges we’ve ever seen.

There are two badges being distributed around LayerOne. The first is an extremely blinkey badge with a Cypress PSoC4 controlling 22 individually addressable RGB LEDs. Most conference attendees received a bare PCB and a bag of parts – the PCB will get you in the door, but if you want your nerd cred, you’ll have to assemble your own badge.

There are still a few interesting features for this badge, including an ESP8266 module that will listen to UDP packets and drive the LEDs. Yes, a random person on the same WiFi AP can control the LEDs of the entire conference event. The badges can also be chained together with just three wires, but so far no one has done this.

The Speaker and Staff badge, based on a VoCore

The second badge – for speakers and staff – is exceptionally more powerful. It’s a Linux box on a badge with two Ethernet connectors running OpenWRT. For a con badge, it’s incredibly powerful, but this isn’t the most computationally complex badge that has ever been at a LayerOne conference. For last year’s badge, [charlie] put together a badge with an FPGA, SAM7 microcontroller, SD card, and OLED display. They were mining Bitcons on these badges.

The Hardware Hacking Village was loaded up with a dozen or so Metcal soldering irons, binocular microscopes, and enough solder, wick, and flux to allow everyone to solder their badge together. Everyone who attempted it actually completed their badge, and stories of badge hacking competitions at other cons were filled with tales of people sprinkling components on random solder pads. Imagine: a conference where people are technically adept. Amazing.

Building a Mesh Networked Conference Badge

[Andrew] just finished his write-up describing electronic conference badges that he built for a free South African security conference (part1, part2). The end platform shown above is based on an ATMega328, a Nokia 5110 LCD, a 433MHz AM/OOK TX/RX module, a few LEDs and buttons.

The badges form a mesh network to send messages. This allows conversations between different attendees to be tracked. Final cost was the main constraint during this adventure, which is why these particular components were chosen and bought from eBay & Alibaba.

The first PCB prototypes were CNC milled. Once the PCB milling was complete there was a whole lot of soldering to be done. Luckily enough [Andrew]’s friends joined in to solder the 77 final boards. He also did a great job at documenting the protocol he setup, which was verified using the open source tool Maltego. Click past the break to see two videos of the system in action.

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Meet the 2013 LayerOne conference badge


The LayerOne security conference is fast approaching and [charliex] is doing his best to put the finishing touches on this year’s conference badge.

Around the perimeter of the badge is 48 LEDs driven by two LED drivers. This allows for some crazy hardware hacking to create anything from a TV-B-GONE to a bulbdial clock. There’s also a few extra switches and sensors that can be hacked to do some interesting things, but where this badge really shines is the addition of an OLED display, allowing it to transform into an XMEGA Xprotolab, a small oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, and frequency generator. Yes, this badge can be hacked, but it’s also a tool for hacking.

There’s an impressive amount of work that went into this badge, a feat even more impressive given the fact that the LayerOne conference is this weekend and the PCBs for these badges won’t arrive until tomorrow. We’ll be the first to say we’re masters of procrastination, but [charliex] really cut it close here.

Messing with barcodes


[nico] just received his credentials for an upcoming conference. On each badge, there’s a 2D barcode with the participant’s bio and contact info. These are meant to be scanned by vendors for future contact. [nico] isn’t so interested in that and plans on updating his personal info by generating a new barcode. To this end, he’s collected a number of links to help out barcode hackers. He used the SWIPE toolkit to identify the format and decode (it has an online component too). There are also several online encoders you can use, like this one from [Terry Burton]. If you’re wondering what sort of shenanigans you can get into faking barcodes, check out [fx]’s presentation from 24C3.

[photo: seanbonner]