The best hardware conference is just a few weeks away. This is the Hackaday Superconference, and it’s two days of talks, an extra day of festivities, soldering irons, and an epic hardware badge. We’ve been working on this badge for a while now, and it’s finally time to share some early details. This is an awesome badge and a great example of how to manufacture electronics on an extremely compressed timetable. This is badgelife, the hardware demoscene of electronic conference badges.
So, what does this badge do? It’s a camera. It has games, and it’s designed by [Mike Harrison] of Mike’s Electric Stuff. He designed and prototyped this badge in a single weekend. On board is a PIC32 microcontroller, an OV9650 camera module, and a bright, crisp 128×128 resolution color OLED display. Tie everything together with a few buttons, and you have a badge that’s really incredible.
So, how do you get one? You’ve got to come to the Hackaday Superconference. This year we’re doing things a bit differently and opening the doors a day early to get the hacker village started with badge hacking topped off by a party that evening and everyone coming to Supercon is invited! This is a badge full of games, puzzles, and video capture and isn’t something to miss. We have less than 30 tickets left so grab your ticket now and read on.
The Beginnings of the Badge
Last year’s Supercon badge, designed by [Voja Antonic], is a beautiful work of art. It has more blinkies than you can shake a stick at, and the capabilities of this badge were amazing; you only need four of them to rickroll the entire conference.
For this year’s badge, we approached [Mike Harrison] of Mike’s Electric Stuff to design a badge. He’s a good friend with the Hackaday crew — he was responsible for giving the Belgrade badge grayscale with gamma correction, and gave a talk about a hot oil and high voltage projector. While x-ray machines and mercury arc rectifiers are more [Mike]’s speed, we were pretty confident he could come up with an interesting idea for a badge.
The initial spec for this badge was a cost of about $30, and a quantity of about 350, for all the attendees of the con. This gave [Mike] a budget of about $10k, and free reign on the design. He came back to us with a few ideas, the first of which was just a bunch of white LEDs driven by a microcontroller. This would be a 24×24 matrix of LEDs, and all the blinkies in the world. This idea was rejected for being a bit too similar to other badges, and the fact that populating huge matrices of LEDs is a pain.
The second idea was a custom segmented LCD. Yes, like a seven- or fourteen-segment LED display, but with the Hackaday logo, with a small matrix for scrolling text or graphics. Building one of these is easy because we have a 3D printer. Building hundreds requires a factory. Looking at Alibaba, the costs and lead times looked viable. This idea was rejected because it’s an all-or-nothing build, and we would only have one shot at getting the display right.
The third idea was best described as ‘some assembly required’. This idea wasn’t fully fleshed out, but this badge would basically be the equivalent of mecanno or snap together plastic model kits. Each con attendee would be given a ‘core’ badge and a few different connectors. These connectors would provide electrical and mechanical links between cores, eventually culminating in a crowd-built Voltron robot during the Superconference.
Sanity prevailed, and we eventually settled on the design for this year’s badge. It would be a camera, relying on exceptionally cheap SPI camera modules available on eBay. Mixed in with a PIC32 that has 64k of RAM and 256k of Flash, a big OLED display, and an SD card socket, and we have a great hardware plan for a conference badge. A little bit of refinement — and the donation of parts from Microchip — adds a serial SRAM to allow the camera to grab QVGA resolution images.
Let’s Single Source From eBay. That’ll Be Great
We have a prototype built, we have most of the BOM on order, and *just* before I wrote this, I hit the fancy green button on the Macrofab website to start the order. Production has now commenced, but I think it’s important to talk about some of the problems that have cropped up already.
The supply chain and BOM management for this badge is pretty easy. Sure, the battery holders are a little weird. (Can someone please tell me what the deal is with battery holders? They’re constantly the most difficult to source component in any project.) The LED we’re using for the camera flash requires a bit of work for assembly, but the majority of the parts are standard, easily sourceable components that have tons of stock everywhere. The camera module and OLED display are not. These came from AliExpress and eBay. There were several suppliers on AliExpress for the display, but the camera modules had only one supplier in the entire world: a single guy on eBay.
[Mike] specced this OV9650 camera module on eBay. It’s a relatively old camera module, but it does see a lot of use in the Arducam community. It’s 1.3 Megapixels, pretty cheap, and by the time I came onto this project, [Mike] had already figured out all the registers for the camera. The only thing we had to do was buy five hundred of them. Not a problem; the eBay listing said they had already sold hundreds, and they had ‘More than 10 available’. Let’s single-source from eBay. It’ll be great.
After placing the Buy It Now order for eight reels of seventy cameras, the seller got back to me. They only had 35. No, not thirty-five reels of seventy cameras; thirty-five total.
At this point we had a few options. The eBay seller had a few other modules, ‘whose appearance is not the same like the one on eBay’. This module may or may not work with the current version of the badge, so a few samples were quickly dispatched to [Mike] in England. Option two would be to source a similar, compatible camera module from AliExpress. The problem with this plan is the eBay cameras cost about $2 USD. The AliExpress cameras cost $13.50 USD. Considering the BOM for this badge was already at $25, this would blow the budget. It’s a conference badge, and we’d do it anyway, but this would be a terrible choice.
Option three would be to go with another camera module entirely. The OV7670 camera module is plentiful, uses the same FFC connector as the module we’re already using, and if you look at the Arducam library, it doesn’t look like we would lose all our NRE. The downside to this camera is its 640×480 resolution. Not ideal, but it would work.
After a week or two of going back and forth with the eBay seller, sending a few of these sample cameras to [Mike], we eventually had a working solution. The OV9650 cameras ‘with a different appearance’ would work. There was nothing really different about them; the FFC connector was a bit longer, and the lens screw had a slightly different shape. Still, we lost a week of development time single-sourcing from eBay.
Now It’s Your Turn To Hack A Badge
There is no other conference on Earth that does badge hacking quite like the Hackaday Supercon. Need proof? For the 2015 conference, people turned a bit of fiberglass into AM radios, cuckoo clocks, and a rudimentary nervous system. There was even a spark gap, and there would have been a Tesla coil if there was a bit more time. Keep in mind, the 2015 Supercon badge was only a blank PCB.
In 2016, we gave the Supercon attendees a bit more to play with. Last year’s Supercon badge was an array of 128 LEDs, a few buttons, a crypto challenge, and surprisingly little prototyping area. Still, [Zach Fredin] managed to deadbug the badge on a bit of copper clad board. [ThunderSqueak] turned her badge and a few paper plates into a speaker. [Sprite_tm] is an overachiever and managed to rickroll the Supercon audience using four of these badges. There’s no other conference where badge hacking is taken as seriously and the results are as spectacular.
This year will be no different, and we’re giving everyone a head start. We want someone — anyone — to arrive at the con with an expansion board ready to go. We want to see independent ‘shields’ for this badge. This should provide some hints to get your started:
This is it. This is your challenge. We want to see the best badge hacks anywhere, and now it’s time for you to step up. We’re going to be releasing full details including some mechanical drawings and some firmware soon, but the badge is in production and now the ball is in your court. Show us what you got, because this is the best badge we’ve ever done.
Purchase your Hackaday Superconference Ticket now.