SXSW Create: Sparkfun Gives Kids Awesome Badges To Hack

By far the most desirable booth for the crowds at SXSW Create was the Sparkfun quadrant. We call it a quadrant because they had a huge footprint approaching 1/4 the tented area, but it was well used. They brought a number of staff down to Austin in order to give away a legit electronic badge project they call BadgerHack.

sxsw-sparkfun-badgerhack-kit-thumbWe love badge hacking. LOVE IT! But South-by isn’t purely a hardware conference so the badges aren’t made of PCBs (for shame). Add to that, free entry to Create scores you a wristband but no badge.

This is the answer to that, a badge giveaway and build-off aimed at kids but cool enough to make me feel only slightly awful for accepting one when I pretty much knew they were going to run out before the final day was done.

The USB stick PCB is, as you guessed it, an Arduino compatible loaded up with an FTDI chip and an ATmega328p which they call the BadgerStick. Accompanying this is a multiplexed 8×7 LED matrix board. Solder the three pin headers and the battery holder leads, connect to the plastic badge using the supplied double-stick tape, and you have a badge that scrolls a message in LEDs.

DSC_0508What an awesome giveaway. I really like it that they didn’t cut corners here. First off, the kids will value the badge much more because they had to actually assemble it rather than just being handed a finished widget. Secondly, there is the USB to serial chip and USB footprint that means they can reprogram it without any extra equipment. And an LED matrix… come on that’s just a gateway drug to learning Wiring. Bravo Sparkfun and Atmel for going this route with your marketing bucks.

The badge activity rounded out with some hardware interfacing. There’s a 3-pin socket that attendees could plug into 4 different stations around the booth. Once done they received a coupon code for Sparkfun that scrolls whenever the badge is booted up. For some at-home fun, the writeup (linked at the top) for the BadgerHack firmware is quite good. It offers advice on changing what is displayed on the badge and outlines how to build a game of Breakout with just a bit of added hardware.

22 thoughts on “SXSW Create: Sparkfun Gives Kids Awesome Badges To Hack

  1. I see FTDI on every uP board still, after FTDIGate everyone acted soo pissed and talked like they would never buy anything with an ftdi chip again. So what happened?

    1. It’s called being “FTDIcked around”.

      And yes. There is something you can do. Use CH340 chips.

      CH340 chips at $0.37 each…. versus >$2 and up for FTDI, and you get users dicked around with?? Nope!

  2. actually, I just blew out 2 more fake ftdi’s on win7 even though I forced the driver to be 2.10 instead of the bad 2.12 version. I don’t know what’s up with that, but I had to carry my nano’s over to my linux box to repair them (reset the pid value). I locked down my win7 box and don’t give it updates anymore (yeah, this is how I reacted to ftdigate). so I’m at a loss to understand how I can uninstall the driver entirely, force a good known 2.10 and yet still get my pid reset to 0. happened just yesterday!

    what I am seeing is that all the new nanos from china are marked as ‘improved version’ using CH340 chips now. the chip is obviously different looking and so you can tell just by the photo in the ad that its not ftdi.

    I actively avoid ftdi when I can. I wish we all would dump this chip and go with cp210x or ch340.

    here’s an amazon listing that shows the ch340 chip:

    and these are all over ebay now. in a few more months, I bet the fake ftdi’s will be flushed out and hopefully we can be done with that HORRIBLE company.

    no, I WILL NEVER FORGET. the pl2303 is crap, but the others are quite usable.

    1. Try typing these 2 commands at the cmd prompt.


      In the device manager that starts up, you still need to enable the “Show Hidden devices” option in the “View” menu

      Then device manager shows all devices ever plugged into your USB ports. You can right click, and uninstall the driver for any FTDI devices, then reinstall the driver you want.

  3. The badge was really quite nice, but I was disappointed that the original firmware isn’t available at the Sparkfun website. I can see why they didn’t post it, since there’s a coupon buried in the code, but I feel like that went against the whole Open Source thing. I want to tinker with the badge, but I also want to be able to restore it to its original state when I’m done. That might make me a sentimental fool, but oh well.

    All that aside, it was really cool to see all the kids doing their first soldering.

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