Hardware Tribes Growing Up Around Artisanal Electronics

Consumer electronics are design beasts that must serve many masters. There’s a price point for the product itself, a ceiling for the feature set (lest it not be ‘user friendly’), and to take the risk of actually manufacturing something there needs to be proof of the market. A lot of great things make it through this process, but some really unique and special gear goes completely around it.

So is the story of this AND!XOR hardware badge being built for DEF CON 25. This is not the official conference badge, but the latest in a growing trend of hardware/firmware engineers and hackers who design their own custom gear for the conference, trying to one-up not just the official badge, but the other hardware tribes doing the same. This unique hardware excitement is a big reason that Hackaday has developed electronic badges for our conferences.

The new badge is a mashup of Bender from Futurama and Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, presents something of monstrosity to hang around your neck. That has certainly never stopped us from having one of these bouncing around our necks as we pound the cattle paths from talk to talk (and the DC23 vinyl record was way more unwieldy anyway).

Bender’s forehead display has now been upgraded from a diminutive OLED to a generous color LCD display. The 433 MHz which used the spring antenna on the previous badge has given way to a Bluetooth Low Energy. The BLE is built into the Rigado BMD-300 SOC that is now in conrol of the badge. We can’t wait to see the shenanigans unlocked with this new hardware — they’re already showing of crazy animations, retro gaming, and teasing a huge multiplayer game with all the badges. Finally, the “Secret Component” at the bottom of their components list delivers the je ne sais quoi to the whole project.

Fans of AND!XOR have already thrown their weight behind it. Unofficial badges have been unavailable to a wider group or only offered in flash-sales that pop up during the con. Last year the team was met with a huge mob throwing money at their supply of 175 badges. Now the AND!XOR team has grown to five people toiling away to make the design, the easter-egg laden firmware, and the manufacturing process better than the amazing work of last year. They just launched a crowd funding campaign on Tuesday and immediately blew past their goal about five times over.

We’re hoping to get our mitts on one of these ahead of DEF CON to give you an early look at what these hardware artists have accomplished. If you’re part of another hardware tribe building custom electronics for the love of it, we’d really like to hear from you. This goes for any conference — we know of at least one other in progress.

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.

Continue reading “What Makes the Perfect Hardware Badge”

Hack the Hackaday Demoscene from Your Own Home

We are just two weeks away from the Hackaday | Belgrade conference, and tickets have completely sold out. That means you can’t get your hands on one of these sweet hardware badges, but you can still take home some prizes for pulling off a gnarly hack with the badge firmware.

What we’re talking about is the Hackaday Belgrade Badge Demoscene – which includes a surrogate presenter program for anyone who wants to send in their own code for the device. You have two weeks to work on and submit your code — and we’ve made it really easy for anyone who has a working knowledge of C.

The day of the conference we will download all entries, and have a surrogate at the conference load it onto their badge and present it on your behalf. There is a separate pool of prizes for online entries, so hackers not at the con will win. And of course we’ll be celebrating the awesome demos with some posts on the front page.

No Hardware Needed

Badge emulator scrolling the word "Hackaday"
Badge emulator scrolling the word “Hackaday”

Hack in C for Abstracted Bliss or Be Hardcore:

You can use the emulator shown here to write your code for this badge. It comes with a set of basic functions that abstracts away the low-level hardware functions, and launches a demo window on your computer to test out your code. Check out this barebones C framework to get started.

For those that want more control, we have published the official assembly code that the badges will ship with (including a user manual). We’ll be squashing bugs right up to the day of the con). You can alter and compile this code yourself, or just start from scratch using the design spec if you prefer to travel the hardcore bit-monkey path.

Either way, you have an 8×16 display and 4 buttons to work with. Exercise your creativity and amaze us by doing a lot on a rather modest canvas. That’s what demoscene is all about.

How to Enter

Entry is easy, just start a project on Hackaday.io and submit it to the Belgrade Badge Demoscene contest using the “Submit Project To…” menu on your project page. You need to upload .C and .H files, or a precompiled .HEX to the file hosting part of your project page by Saturday, April 9th.

That’s the extent of the requirements. But it would be super fun if you recorded the software emulator playing your demo for all to see. The easiest way to do this is to record a video of your computer screen using your smartphone. Good luck to all!