The hardware badge for the Hackaday Belgrade conference is a Retro Computer that you wear around your neck. I have one in my hands and it’s truly a work of art. It’s beautiful, it’s fun to play with, and it will be an epic platform for a glorious weekend of badge hacking! Check out the first look video, then join me below as I drill down into the details.
Get your ticket now for Hackaday Belgrade, our premier European hardware conference at the end of this month. It’s a day filled with talks, works, food, fun, and of course everyone through the door gets one of these incredible badges. The best part is the community that turns out for this event and that includes the Hacker Village that takes hold in the evening. We’ll be hacking the badges until the wee hours of the morning alongside hardware demos, presentations, lightning talks, and live IDM and DJ sets.
This badge feels incredible. The concept and hardware design are the work of Voja Antonic who is already in Belgrade making sure the manufacturing process goes smoothly. Since everyone who attends the conference will get a badge there’s a lot of hardware to produce!
Voja is a master at including artful choices in his designs. I love the shape of this badge, with the lanyard hole to one side. But the opposite corner having a slight bevel pulls the shape in a very interesting direction, along with the gently rounded bottom corners. The angled switches are mesmerizing in a way that a straight grid would not have been, and Voja’s choice of a cross-hatched ground pour in the top copper gives a pleasing texture that you might not have noticed, but would miss if it were taken away. This badge is gorgeous.
When I think of a retro computer the things that come to mind are a clicky keyboard, and a green (or amber) monochrome display. This badge easily satisfies keyboard lovers with 55 momentary push buttons. The screen itself is full color so it can do monochrome, and at 320×240 it has the feel of a low-res CRT, operating in 40×20 character VT100 mode by default (more on this in the software section).
The surprise that will bring a smile to your face is the PCB mounted speaker on the back. It can be driven with three voices and sounds just great! You’ll find one RGB LED module on the front, as well as an expansion header for programming, serial, I2C, and some GPIO. All of this is driven by the PIC32MX370F512H, along with a two megabyte flash chip for storing programs. If this was all available as a computer back in the day it would have dominated the industry: 48 MHz, 512 kB flash storage, and 128 kB of RAM.
The badge I have is one of 5 ‘mark 2’ prototypes — the originals didn’t have the speaker, were based on a PIC24 chip, and this version steps up from AAA to AA. The production badges have black solder mask and an acrylic bezel for the back, but everything else remains the same. Learn more on the page project page.
To hold it in your hands is something special, but the software is what makes it come alive. Voja’s original idea was a badge that has a BASIC interpreter but we have so much more than that. Having found a very old post on the Microchip forums from him about BASIC for PIC, we reached out to Jaromir Sukuba — well known on Hackaday.io and winner of the Coin Cell Challenge earlier this year. Jaromir agreed to come on board and write the software for the project. Please take the time to thank Jaromir for this, it has turned into a huge project!
For those that want purity in their Retro Computing experience, Jaromir has a couple of things for you. Notably, the badge is running CP/M on a Z80 emulator. CP/M is a very popular operating system for computers of the Z80 vintage, and to proof out the system we’ve been running Zork! But this is certainly not limited to games. The badge as a ROM drive for CP/M that includes xmodem. Using a USB to TTL serial cable you can transfer programs onto one of the three 512 kB drives which use that Flash chip for storage. Of course you can also transfer badge to badge.
Also a huge throwback is a copy of Tiny BASIC that is running in an unaltered form. This is not the main BASIC interpreter on the badge, but dating back to the 1970’s it’s fun to challenge yourself to do something really interesting with the barebones interpreter. For those that want a refresher, here’s the Tiny BASIC manual dating back to 1979.
The main event on the badge is the Hackaday BASIC interpreter that has been customized to make full use of all the badge functions. It has the ability to save and load programs from 16 storage slots, but it can also transfer programs onto and off of the badge over serial. It drives the music on the badge using a simple scripting language. There are words for controlling the LEDs, twiddling GPIO on the pin header, and taking more direct control of the display by changing colors, moving the cursor, controlling screen refresh, and using the extended ASCII character set. You can check out the software for yourself by visiting this repository.
All of this truly does make it a retro computer in your hands. I can’t wait to see hundreds of these being typed on and bringing joy to a conference full of hardware geeks!
The badge hacking ceremonies will be at midnight, giving everyone around 14 hours to do something special with the badge. We want to see all levels of hacking, from people who have never programmed making the LEDs blink, to veterans of the demoscene blowing the stock firmware away with their custom code.
Start dreaming up your hacks now. If you have them, bring along a USB-to-serial cable and/or PIC programmer (we’ll have some on hand, but the more the better). There are awards for the best music, best demo, best BASIC, best CP/M, and a few other categories of hacks. But it isn’t the awards that make this fun, it’s showing off your creativity for others who will truly appreciate it. These are your people, you need to be at Hackaday Belgrade.
Get your ticket and come make some memories with us!