Pictorial Guide To The Unofficial Electronic Badges Of DEF CON 27

DEF CON has become the de facto showplace of the #Badgelife movement. It’s a pageant for clever tricks that transform traditional green rectangular circuit boards into something beautiful, unique, and often times hacky.

Today I’ve gathered up about three dozen badge designs seen at DC27. It’s a hint of what you’ll see in the hallways and meetups of the conference. From hot-glue light pipes and smartphone terminal debugging consoles to block printing effects and time of flight sensors, this is a great place to get inspiration if you’re thinking of trying your hand at unofficial badge design.

If you didn’t catch “The Badgies” you’ll want to go back and read that article too as it rounds up the designs I found to be the craziest and most interesting including the Car Hacking Village, Space Force, SecKC, DC503, and Frankenbadge. Do swing by the Hands-On articles for the AND!XOR badge and for [Joe Grand’s] official DC27 badge. There was also a lot of non-badge hardware on display during Hackaday’s Breakfast at DEF CON so check out that article as well.

Enough preamble, let’s get to the badges!

The DC27 Multi Pass badge has a beautiful E-ink display and is driven by an ESP32 and of course modeled after the official ID cards from the movie The Fifth Element. The reverse-mount LEDs also have capacitive touch areas on the top layer which are a neat trick of copper mesh rather than a solid pour. [CromulonB] set out to produce 200 of the badges, but netted just 170 in time for DEF CON. This is still a success as it was about 25% more than were claimed in the crowd funding campaign.

Another homage to the Sci-Fi movie, the Fifth Element Stones Badge is an incredibly ambitious undertaking that reaches into three dimensions and adds motion. The badge itself is just a platform with power and an ATtiny84 microcontroller. The stones are add-ons and have resistive dividers allowing the base to sense which one has been plugged in. Each stone lights up and the three shards near the top open up. The [GoonBoxBadge] team of two people hand assembled 200 of these over many months.

The Arc Badge was one of the most beautiful at the con this year. [Twinkle Twinkie] teamed up with [Wire Engineer] to complete the design. A PIC16F15344 programmed in assembly brings 32 color modes to an incredible PCB design that uses 0.8mm FR4 as a diffuser, and brass fasteners that sandwich a 3D printed spacer between that and the base PCB where all the components reside. 248 of these badges were produced.

The Stargate badge is based on a Kinetis KL27 microcontroller and five shift registers to drive 70 LEDs on the front layer, and 37 on the back layer (lighting up the glyphs around the circumference). [KeeperOfBits] built 120 of these badges.

This year’s DC Zia is a laser theremin synth badge. It uses a VL53L0X time of flight sensor for proximity sensing, powered by a BMD-340 module from Rigado. They made 75 of these badges.

The DC801 HCRN badge is inspired by The Expanse TV show. It’s a game where you walk around on the screen and fix broken parts of the ship/badge. Five people worked together on the badge design, but there was plenty of help packaging the 375 badges that were produced.

Saw the Badge is powered by one of Sean Hodgins’ HCC modules based around a SAM D21 chip. The diffuser is hot glue to give the rear-mount LEDs a nice look. The cheeks are 20 & 24 LEDs respectively and use and ISSI 36-channel LED driver to control everything. The cassette tape is an add-on and LEDs around the two tape reels are animated to mimic the tape playing. Twenty-five of these were all hand-placed by [MagicStoneTech].

The DC Shoot Badge is a reissue of the shoot badge from DC23 which is a personal electronics device for use at a shooting range. It has a microphone on board for shot counting, a shot timer, mechanical tilt sensor for screen orientation, and is all driven by a PIC16F1709. The design is by [Gigs] who produced 250 of them… the final assembly included 5,000 hand-soldered joints done the same week as the con.

The Tron Badge is based on a Recognizer from the movie. It has a completely integrated Bus Pirate that was demonstrated on Android phone terminal app. At the heart of the badge is an ATmega328 which reads data from the identity disk add-on to scroll a message on the 8 x 12 white LED matrix and drive the animation patterns for 16 RGB LEDs. [Sodium_Hydrogen] began production in June but problems with incorrect parts during assembly delayed completion until after the con.

The team behind the White Dragon Noodle Bar badge found some really neat ways to alter the look of LEDs. The faceplate is 3D printed and provides baffles that were filled with hot glue as a diffuser. This, combined with the white silk screen that helps reflect the light out through the faceplate, makes for a look worthy of the Blade Runner aesthetic that inspired it. Twenty of these badges were produced.

The Blueteam village badge is a WiFi honeypot. A Raspberry Pi zero provides the connectivity, running HoneyDB to collect and upload the data. The screen itself is a really clever use of a shell script menu. This project by [Jeff Yestrumskas] has been in the works for over a year, with 250 badges produced in total.

The Enterprise Badge showed off a very interesting take on using FR4 as a diffuser for reverse-mount LEDs. That trick is being done all the time, but if you look at the leading edge of the warp drives on this badge you’ll see that exposing the FR4 near an edge for this purpose give a new and interesting effect. 150 total badges were made, half of them kits, the other half populated with skillet reflow soldering. This is impressive because there are components on both sides of the board. To make this happen, Teflon blocks were used to hold the PCB up off of the skillet so as not to make direct contact with already-soldered bottom-side components.

Da Bomb badge is from the makers of last year’s Ides of DEF CON badge and uses the same beautiful screen. Board details are quite interesting as the red silk screen on matte black solder mask is something I haven’t seen before. The badge has an audio playback engine and can be used as a DTMF dialer.

The DEADPOOL mini badge gets its juice from a CR2450 coin cell. It has an MCP23017 constant-current LED driver that is commanded through I2C by the ATtiny85 that is also on the board. 200 of these were produced.

Sometimes you’ve just got to hack on what’s around. [Greymanhw] was given this green PCB by someone at DEF CON last year. He has no idea what it’s for but has repurposed it to host the 555 timer and shift register that drive 10 point-to-point wired LEDs.

Last year the DC Furs badge turned a lot of heads with their goggle-shaped LED array which looked spectacular. That concept returned to this year’s badge, but the host PCB for the electronics did away with the furry part of the furs badge. This opened up the doors for faceplate PCBs that sit right on top, acting as a diffuser for the LED array, and providing an artistic canvas to customize the look of your badge.

Technically this is an addon, but with an OLED screen and its own EFM8 microcontroller, this certainly feels like a badge. The GAT Nametag (designed by [True] of the Whiskey Pirate Crew) will display your name on the screen, but also monitors the ADXL345 accelerometer and tilts each letter so that the name is always on the level.

The Internet of Batteries badge is another [True] design but this one is a bit backwards in most ways. With the style of a Duracell, its intent is to be a battery-source for either another add-on or for other badges themselves, feeding VCC on the add-on header. The image above was taken without a Lithium battery installed.

The Hack 4 Kids badge was originally designed for GrrCON and later went on to sell about half of the 200 badges produced through a crowd funding campaign. The ESP32 brings WiFi and Bluetooth for connectivity, and can be programmed in the Arduino IDE via a USB port on the badge to help get kids into hacking.

This is what this year’s Hack For Satan badge looks like. It’s coin-cell powered and has that popular Rigado module to give it interactivity. I didn’t catch up with the badge creators this year, but when I saw these in the wild they were being gathered in groups of five to trigger the interactive elements.

Using PCB as a medium for art is sometimes meh and other times mind-blowing. This is the latter. 125 Skully badges were made by [Nick Pisarro] who designed them as a one-sided circuit so the skull art wouldn’t be disturbed by the circuit itself. The pins are a commodity project that’s superglued to the back of the badge.

It’s always popcorn time with the Popcorn Bucket badge. The backlit kernels look spectacular nested into a plastic popcorn box cut down to size. Within the popcorn, there are twelve add-on headers but I think it looks better without the extras in place. These were built by [Kredence] and [Ajax_409].

The illuminati badge by [Kredence] was one of my favorites last year. Here’s the new version, which uses an interesting offset header and 3D printed baffles to keep the light in the center of the eye and not on the edges of the board. I can’t remember why I don’t have an image of this one lit up, but I think they just weren’t quite ready in time for DC27. Next year?

The monarch and sovereign badges are a nice middle-ground between electronic and non-electronic badges.

The DC614 badges is designed as a shield for the OrangePi Zero that powers it. This is a Logitech dongle spoofer, taking advantage of the Mousejack vulnerability in the dongle firmware that has been patched but is rarely upgraded by users and there are a ton of these dongles in the wild! There were 30 of this badge produced.

During Hackaday’s Breakfast at DEF CON meetup I ran into [Robert Ballecer] who I haven’t met before but am very familiar with through his appearances on the This Week in Tech network. He brought along his Lanyard Funk Unit badge that uses a Nano pro to light up a 24 RGB LED ring covered with a 3D printed diffuser. He made 10 of these in total.

The Cylon badge by [TeamBazooka] scans for humans using 48 LEDs driven by an STM32. Only three of these badges were ever made.

The TV3Y3 badge is meant to be a handy way to experiment with AR/VR thanks to the fiducials on the front and back of the board. 118 of these were made, with an ATtiny85 driving the charlieplexed matrix of twelve LEDs.

The Pixel badge is made to look like a really large WS2812b — the addressable RGB LEDs that cascade data along a string of the components. Anyone who has looked closely at these will immediately recognize the die bonding design of the add-on, and the LED strip design of the host board. For what it’s worth, I really like the arc of resistors around the coin cell holder on the back, it’s a great touch!

A few hundred of these Madlabs badges were made, but beyond that I don’t have more info for you.

And finally, the Terrible Ideas Badge, of which 200 were built for DEF CON 26. It has three capacitive touch pads connected to the ATmega328 but they’re not yet operational. This one is for blinky enjoyment.

The name comes from the fact that making the choice to build an unofficial conference badge is a terrible idea. I think that’s a fitting place to end the article. Yes, making many many badges is a terrible idea, but the payoff is an adventure into a lot of manufacturing challenges you would otherwise not face, and an introduction to a really fun world where electronics geeks try to outdo one another in a supportive way. It’s the demoscene of small-run electronics and so far, the biggest stage for this art form is DEF CON. You’d better get working on your design for DC28!

15 thoughts on “Pictorial Guide To The Unofficial Electronic Badges Of DEF CON 27

    1. Actually BSides Portland did that a few years back. It’s a Nyan Cat shaped badge that when populated is also a Bus Pirate. Pretty neat, especially when you connect your leads and it forms the Nyan cat’s rainbow tail

    1. It became a thing because it’s possible and because we and others wanted to.

      We (the Whiskey Pirates) didn’t make the first electronic badges but many have told me they were inspired after seeing us with our badge at DC22. Back then electronic badges that weren’t the DEF CON badge usually were unattainable, worn by someone untouchable, an elite asshole who you could never live up to.

      Our DC22 badge wasn’t a party badge or a show of elitism. We just made it because we wanted to. Who wouldn’t want to wear a bunch of LEDs and an electronic nametag at a hacker con? We went all out within our budget and stretched our skills, money and time budgets and came up with the skull badge. By hand we soldered up 20 of them and gave them away for free to people who do cool shit and people we respect.

      At DC22 as far as electronic things go I only really remember our badge, the conference badge, and Queercon’s badge.

      Fast forward and now look at all the things people made for DC27.

      Glad to see this new artform flourish.

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