Hands-On With The Electromagnetic Field 2024 Badge

With every large event in our circles comes a badge, and Electromagnetic Field 2024 is no exception. We’ve told you about the Tildagon when it was announced, it’s a hexagonal badge designed with provision for user-created “Hexpansions”, which can be picked up at future camps. The idea of this badge is to make something with a lifetime beyond the one camp, and we’re interested to have received our badge. It’s unusual for a hacker camp badge in that it costs a little extra rather than just coming with the ticket.

The two PCBs linked by the ribbon cable.
This badge is not particularly difficult to assemble.

In a pair of anti-static bags are the front and rear PCB assemblies, a piece of ribbon cable, a couple of glue pads, and some screws. It could be bought with a battery, however since it’s compatible with the EMF 2016 and 2018 batteries we opted to use one of those instead. Assembly is a case of attaching the cable between the two boards, sticking the battery in place with the glue pads, hooking it up, and screwing the two together.

Looking at the boards, we find the ESP32-S3 microcontroller running the show, and the six sockets for the hexpansions. These last components as well as a set of metal threaded standoffs are evidently not cheap parts, and we’re guessing they’ve had quite some effect on the BOM. The front PCB has a round LCD display module attached, this is of slight interest because it’s done with a row of offset PCB holes rather than a socket. It appears to form a decent connection and hold on to the display adequately.

The badge displaying "Unknown error".
Never judge a badge by day one firmware

Software-wise, there’s the option for an over-the-air update, which we did through the camp network. There are a set of buttons round the points of the hexagon which form the interface, but sadly there’s little in the way of cues as to which does what and it’s a case of figuring it out for yourself. We managed to repeatedly crash our badge when we tried anything, however  it’s not unusual for better working firmware versions to emerge hot on the heels of the badge itself.

We like the hardware of this badge, it’s robust and cleverly designed. We like the idea of a badge for future camps too, and the hexpansions are a pretty neat idea. It’s plain that the firmware version on the first day is a bit flaky, but especially since this is a badge for the long term we’re sure this will get better. All-in-all an eye-catching badge with a future!

12 thoughts on “Hands-On With The Electromagnetic Field 2024 Badge

  1. Looks more like a hasty attempt to push an unfinished whatever through the door. The so-called “hexpansions” are a nice attempt to give a longer lifespan to the badge, but i seriously doubt it will happen.
    If there was any work, it was made on the artwork of the PCB, the rest was botched and called a day.

    1. I feel that to be an unfair comment, as I’ve been privy to some of the design process of this and many other badges. Making a badge for 3000+ people is *hard*. Making one for 3000 people on almost no budget with a team that can only work in their spare time is almost impossible. I did a volunteer shift on the badge desk and saw a lot of badge customers, among them were only a very few who needed parts swapping out (a broken display, one with a faulty connector).

      I suggest you try producing an event badge under those circumstances yourself before you are so quick to criticise.

    2. I think this is a completely inaccurate and definitely unfair comment. The number of folks who built hexpansions ahead of the event was significant, there was a huge amount of joy shared trading and discussing them, and lots of interesting opportunities to build on this badge. I don’t expect it to be a one-shot thing. The badge team also did an impressive job in sharing their thinking both before and during the event.

    3. The badge team did say the plan is the badge base (I’d guess the lower /back board that has the brains of the badge) will be reused for a few years, with more added to the board (probably via a new top daughter board) each year.

    1. In what way have they jumped the shark? Nerdy conference badges have always been nerdy, and not just EMFCamp’s. And by charging a few quid for one, it’s easy to opt out of not having one if you really think it’s gone too far. No one is forcing you to get one.

  2. This year’s EMF badge is best yet, the Hexpansion socket, I’m sure will be come a new standard for future designs. I had fun trading my 3D printed ones and looking forward designing electronic ones ready for next EMF camp.

  3. I have no experience PCB design, and only undergrad level programming. Already enthused by playing with this badge, I have started playing with Kicad and looking at what I can do with this. Well done badge team

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