CampZone 2019 Badge Is Begging To Become A Huge Billboard

What has 256 full-colour LEDs, everyone’s favorite Lithium battery form factor, wireless connectivity, and hangs around your neck? It’s the CampZone 2019 badge that turns all attendees into a really fun billboard — but can the attendees hack themselves into one massive display?

One of Europe’s larger events for the gaming community,  CampZone is hosted in Netherlands and runs from July 26th to August 5th. It’s a typical large summer camp, and caters for those who intersect gaming and hacking with HackZone, a decent sized hacker camp within a camp. I’ve been fortunate enough to get my hands on a CampZone 2019 badge, dubbed the I-Pane, let’s take a look at what they managed to pack into this electronic conference badge.

A Blinky Matrix For You To Command

The CampZone 2019 badge, front(top) and rear.
The CampZone 2019 badge, front(top) and rear.

The package arrived in the UK sheathed in UK Border Force tape, evidently it had been flagged as suspicious and subjected to manual inspection. Nothing nefarious here, inside was a neatly bagged up badge with an information sheet, lanyard, and a couple of optional extra components; one is a capacitor for power supply smoothing when driving the LEDs from a USB source, and the other a six-way Shitty Addon connector for a footprint on the back of the board.

The badge PCB itself is a wide rectangle about 190x50mm (7.5″x2″) in size, and its party trick is that its entire front surface is an 8×32 matrix of 5mm multi-colour LEDs that make a bright full-colour pixel display. The trend has been for badges to cover their designs with as many LEDs as they possibly can, and the CampZone badge takes this to its logical conclusion. The display is driven by a brace of SM16106SC LED driver chips

Half of the LED drivers that supply the matrix of tri-colour LEDs.
Half of the SM16106SC LED drivers that supply the matrix of tri-colour LEDs.

The 18650 cell holder is located on the back of the back, along with a TP4056 lithium-ion charger and associated power supply components. It’s nice to see a common form-factor Lithum battery used as you hope it may find an alternative use after the con.

User interaction on the badge itself is provided by a set of buttons. There’s a 4-way direction pad on one end, and A and B buttons on the other. The interesting aspect here is that the buttons are on the opposite side of the board from the display itself.

A CH340C USB-to-serial chip was chosen for its low price, allowing the user to interface with the ESP32 WROOM module that is both running the show, and providing connectivity. When powered on, the badge first first tries to connect to the Campzone wireless network, then drops into a short menu including a Snake game and a Wi-Fi configuration application. Adding a network password is a slightly fiddly process of cycling through the alphabet. Once connected it automatically downloaded a firmware update which is a clever feature for last-minute bug fixes.

We can see why it’s called the I-Pane at this point as those LEDs are very bright, fortunately the brightness can be reduced to less searing levels via the Left and Right keys.

Talking To Your Badge, Made Easy

The software is based upon the project that originated with the SHA2017 badge. Like all their work it is fully open-source and comes with the usual app repository and suite of event apps.

The user-friendly serial menu.
The user-friendly serial menu.

The really interesting part that should open up new possibilities to any others wishing to adapt it for their own badge is how they have managed to make a usable interface with such a low-resolution display. It has a menu that can be navigated and read if you don’t mind waiting for scrolling text, but the clever stuff comes once you connect it via USB and fire up a terminal. It drops straight into a menu, from which you can easily access all app-related functions for running and installing apps, as well as perform an update or drop into a MicroPython prompt. Here you can very quickly paste and test entire apps as MicroPython code, and of course there are plenty of functions available to put graphics on those LEDs.

I’m told that there’s an online graphics editor in the works to will be released by the start of the event. This makes it easy to create pixel art for the LED matrix. All this makes the badge one of the the easiest on which to test software that we’ve seen, and once a piece of code has been perfected it becomes a simple task to share it with the world by creating it as a project in their “hatchery” app repository.

Though the LED matrix is impressive and a lot of fun to play with, this badge lacks a stand-out hardware feature such as EMF2018’s phone or CCCamp 2015’s SDR. It does score hugely though on two key points, in that it works out of the box and doesn’t require the user to wait for any patches, and the ease of getting software onto it is a level higher than so many others. There are as yet only a few apps for it in the hatchery but as always a lot more will appear over the course of the event and we look forward to seeing what people do with it.

A Hackaday colleague wondered whether anyone will succeed at hacking multiple badges to form a much larger screen. A huge billboard would be fun, but I’d be more excited to see it given multi-badge multiplayer games in which game objects are thrown between badges like the “Shoot My Valentine” hack from 2018 Hackaday Belgrade. Whatever is produced we can see it having a life beyond the event, if only as a very bright programmable display and wearable accessory.

You can find out more about CampZone and HackZone on the website. At the time of writing it appears that there are still tickets available, should you wish to attend.

16 thoughts on “CampZone 2019 Badge Is Begging To Become A Huge Billboard

  1. To make a large billboard with them… the WiFi would need to be synced to a server, and each badge would need to be in a specific place/position. A static billboard would need to be tried first (a fixed scene) before attempting to see if a motion/scrolling billboard is possible. That would take a lot of syncing between “segments”.

    1. My google-fu is failing me at the moment, but a couple years ago I read an article where someone was using dozens of random phones and tablets to create a larger display. Memory says each unit was directed to a unique web site that displayed a unique ID (QR code I think) then another device (phone) was used to take a picture of the whole mess. Back end server then sorted out size/position/ID of each device in the cluster and served up individual pieces of the whole picture.

      No reason something similar couldn’t be done with these.

        1. Well, that certainly seems to be the one I was thinking of. But good grief, 2011? No wonder my memory is fuzzy. :-)

          There’s lots of interesting features there, but to me the one that is killer to bring over to a “multi badge billboard” is having an automatic system determine location of each unit.

    2. Well you wouldn’t need a server, just hook up ESPnow, one badge as ‘master’ and the others follow suit. Something like that makes syncing way easier. And it’s in our Badge.Team Micropython branch.

  2. Was lucky enough to acquire one of these this year, been a lot of fun to mess around with and now have my NYC PocketChip hooked up to it so I can deploy while stuck on a bus 😁

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