What Actually Happens At A Hardware Hacking Con

The Hackaday Superconference was last weekend, and it was the greatest hardware con on the planet. What can you build out of a conference badge? If you answered “a resin-based 3D printer” you would have won a prize. If you decided to put your badge in a conference water bottle and make a stun gun you’d receive adoration of all in attendance. Yeah, it got that crazy.

Yes, there’s a Supercon badge in that bottle and it’s now a stun gun.

At other tech conferences, you’ll find gaggles of nerds sitting around a table with MacBooks and Thinkpads. The Superconference is different. Here, you’ll find soldering irons, tackle boxes filled with components, and loose WS2812s scattered about the floor. The smell of solder flux wafts through the air. You detect a hint of ozone.

The depth and breadth of hacks that came out of this were simply stunning. We a binocular virtual reality hack, an internet trolling badge, blinky add-on boards, audio add-on boards, a film festival was shot on the badge, and much more which you’ll find below.

We have started a Badge Hacks list and want to see details of all of the hacks. So if you were at Supercon be sure to publish them on Hackaday.io and send a DM to be added to the list.

Starting Up An Extra Day of Hacking

To get all of this creativity rolling we did something a bit different for this year’s Superconference. Instead of opening the doors up on Saturday morning, we set up a badge hacking area and party on Friday afternoon. The drinks flowed like the meniscus on a properly soldered lead, and by 2pm on Friday, everyone was hacking firmware on the incredible camera badge for this year’s con.

We didn’t stop on Friday. The Superconference is a hardware hacking conference, and that meant we brought out the soldering irons, experimented with melting aluminum with gallium, reflowed a few boards, and created a few deadbug LED cubes. This went on all weekend.

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Supercon Badge Hacking Quick-Start

The hardware badge Mike Harrison designed for this year’s Hackaday Superconference is begging to be hacked. Today, I wanted to help get you up and running quickly.

The Hacker Village atmosphere of Supercon is starting up a day early this year. On Friday, November 10th badge pick-up starts at noon and badge hacking continues throughout the afternoon, followed by a party at Supplyframe HQ that evening. Plan to get to town on Friday and join in the fun. Of course, you need to grab a Supercon ticket if you haven’t already.

Check out the 2017 Superconference Badge project page for full documentation that Mike has put together during his development process.

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Make A Badge When There Is No Badge Yet

What do you do when your keenly anticipated hacker camp releases details of its upcoming badge and you really want to have a go at coding for it, but there are no badges for you to try yet? If you are [Artdanion], this is not a problem, you simply build your own.

He found his requirement to interface with genuine hardware exceeded the abilities of the emulator that the SHACamp 2017 badge team had thoughtfully provided, so he reached for breakout boards for the ESP32, the MPR121 touch sensor, and the e-ink display, and assembled his own clone on a piece of stripboard. Not only did it provide him with enough to develop his own apps, he found when he brought it to the event that the public release of the official firmware ran on it with only a few configuration tweaks. He had an official event badge, that wasn’t the event badge. Is this the first time this has been done? We think it might be.

The home-made badge is an impressive piece of work, but it ties into an observation we made at the end of our review of the official version of the SHA2017 badge. The use of an ESP32 with well-designed peripherals and a solid firmware means that this is a design that is likely to form the bedrock upon which some future badges are built. [Artdanion] has proved how straightforward it is to clone, we’d like to be so bold as to make the prediction that we’ll see more developments of this platform at future events. Meanwhile this home-made badge is a neat achievement, and we can only imagine the surprise of the SHA2017 badge team on being presented with a clone of their work for reflashing.

The SHA2017 Badge Revealed

It’s that excellent time of year in which one slowly comes to the realisation that the summer’s eagerly anticipated events are now no longer at some impossibly distant point in the future, but in fact only a matter of a few months or even weeks away. For our European readers, this means that August’s SHA2017 hacker camp is appearing on the horizon, four days of outdoor technological indulgence for our community in a scout camp on the Dutch polders.

As it is a tradition of such events to have an electronic badge incorporating ever more impressive levels of computing power, it follows that the pre-production announcement of an event badge has become an important milestone in the countdown to the day. SHA2017 is no exception, and thus today we see the announcement of their take on the essentials for a hacker camp badge in 2017.

The most immediately obvious thing about the badge is its 296×128 pixel e-ink display, which should provide an immediate benefit in terms of battery life. There are the usual plethora of interfaces, GPIOs, USB, and Neopixels, and the user input is via a set of capacitive buttons. Powering the device is an ESP32, and a key design goal was to have a network for the badges that does not put pressure on the 2.4GHz infrastructure. We’re guessing they’re doing this using raw WiFi packets in the same way as the MAGfest swadge. On the software front it will provide a straightforward development route via MicroPython, and there will be an app library for those without the inclination to code their own. You can get an early look at the schematic from the project repo (PDF).

Their target is to have the badge ready and with stable software on day 1 of the event, a laudable aim if they can manage it.

Members of the Hackaday team will be making the trip to the Netherlands for SHA2017, we look forward to seeing you if you attend too, and please show us anything interesting you do with your badges! Keep your eyes peeled for the Jolly Wrench, and come say hello. You’ll find me with the OxHack contingent and giving a talk on the kit biz which I have also published in the Project to Kit series of articles.

We’ve covered so many badges here at Hackaday that we could almost serve of a retrospective exhibition of the art form. Of particular interest to us though is our own [Voja Antonic]’s badge for last year’s Hackaday SuperConference.

Thanks [Sebastius] for the tip.

Showing Off the Badge Hacks from SuperCon

Since the Beginning of Time* humans have been irresistibly attracted to the blinking of an LED. At first there was one LED and it was good, but eventually there were many working in unison and the matrix was formed. Badge hacking at the Hackaday SuperConference challenged everyone to do something interesting with the display matrix and other yummy hardware on this year’s badge and we were in awe of what people managed to pull off.

We named three winners, and recognized the first hacker to solve the Crypto Challenge. Check out the presentations in the video below and then join us after the break for a close look at each winning hack. Three winners received $256 and the crypto challenge winner received $512; two of them told Hackaday they plan to donate their prize to charity.

*we of course mark the beginning of time as the Unix Epoch

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The Fastest Path to SuperCon Badge Firmware Hacking

Hackaday SuperConference begins tomorrow and every ticketed attendee will get their hands on this sexy piece of hardware which is the conference badge. Yes, it looks fantastic hanging around your neck, you can play a wicked game of Tetris on it, and it runs a crypto challenge. But badge hacking is a thing and this post is the most concise information you’ll find on hacking on the firmware. Whether this is your first time blinking an LED, or you cut your teeth on PIC assembly, you can make this badge do your bidding with minimal effort.
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Hacker’s Wishlist: What Must-Have Components Let You Build Anything?

We’re putting in a parts order at the end of the week, yet we don’t have a specific project in mind. Trying to wrap your noggin’ around a bill of materials to build anything is tough, but that’s the gist of stocking components for a hackathon.

So we put it to you: what components can’t you live without when you roll your sleeves up for some good old fashioned hardware hacking?

What Can You Build in Two Days?

multiplierThis parts order is for the badge hacking at this year’s SuperCon. What we saw last year was amazing considering the parts we had available. What you see above is the back of the conference badge with a lot of caps and diodes added to it. It’s a voltage multiplier that [Sprite_TM] built onto his badge to get the 9V input up to a 1000V output.

So diodes and caps, check. They’ll be on the order. But we want to know what you would add to a parts order where anything is possible? Let us know in the comments below.

Unlock Beast Mode

Part of the fun last year was starting from a badge that had no circuitry built onto it at all. [Brian Benchoff] joked in his coverage of the hacking that this year’s badge would just be a piece of copper clad FR4 — a great idea and challenge accepted. In addition to the normal badge, for those willing to test their mettle, we want you to go for Beast Mode. We’ll have copper clad (single and double-sided) and protoboard on hand.

We’re looking for Manhattan style, dead bug, and any other elegant, interesting, or hacky method of rapid prototyping. Bring along your own pre-spun or home-etched boards — if they’re not already populated you can do that in the badge hacking area. If you want to learn the awesome X-Acto knife method of carving up copper clad, Zach Fredin will be helping out in the badge hacking area. You’ll also find Voja Antonic, Paul Stoffregen, and others hanging out there too.

But What About the Badge?

2016-supercon-badge-circuitYes, there is a hardware badge and it’s a doozy this year. Voja Antonic designed it and published a great explanation last week. It’s based around a PIC18LF25K50 and features an LED Matrix and user inputs. This will be a lot of fun for the firmware hackers, but why not get in on the hardware hacking action while you’re at it?

The back of the badge has a 9-bin breakout header (2x 3V, 2x Gnd, 5x GPIO). This pin header is 0.1″ pitch so you can design in advance for any add-on circuits you might want to build. We’ll also have connectors on hand to use in your hacks.

Last year Paul Stoffregen’s Teensy audio workshop was hugely popular and one of the most interesting badge hacks added a Teensy, audio board, and LCD to the mix to create a spectrum analyzer with waterfall display. I’m sure we’ll see some hacks that reach that level this year. But it’s a welcoming and jovial environment; even if you never blinked an LED there will be throngs of people waiting to cheer your accomplishment in the name of getting everyone in the world excited about hardware.

Seriously Though, What Components Should We Order?

Tools are going to be no problem this year since we have the Supplyframe Design Lab at our disposal. But we really are putting in a parts order this week and need your advice. We’ll have the usual suspects: pin headers, shift registers, voltage regulators, level converters, 7400 series logic and 555 timers, extra battery holders, passives, etc.

Even if you’re not in on the hacking, let us know what you can’t live without. What’s your analog hacking wishlist? What type of sensor breakouts would you like to see people playing with? Sound off in the comments below.