Hands-On: BornHack 2020 Badge Has 9×32 Of Bling Fed By CircuitPython

Despite widespread pandemic cancellations, BornHack still happened this year and they even managed to once again bring an electronic badge to all attendees. If you missed it, I’ve already published an overview of the hacker camp itself. Today let’s dig into the 2020 BornHack badge!

Designed by Thomas Flummer and manufactured in Denmark, it takes the form of a PCB in the shape of a roughly 60 degree circular arc with most of its top side taken up by a 9 by 32 array of SMD LEDs. There is the usual 4-way button array and space for an SAO connector on the rest of the front face, while on the rear are a set of GPIO pads and a pair of AA battery holders for power. Connectivity is via USB-C and infra-red, and usefully there is also a power on/off switch.

At the heart of its hardware is a SAMD21G18A ARM Cortex M0+ microcontroller which is perhaps not the most exciting of chips, but the hardware becomes more interesting with the LED drivers. A pair of the IS31FL3731 chips (you may recognise from Brian Benchoff’s Mr. Robot badge) each drive half of the Charliplexed LED array. These versatile chips take the bother of scanning the LED matrix away from the microcontroller with their own internal frame registers fed from an I2C interface. This choice both makes the best use of the relatively meagre microcontroller in this application, and opens the way for the software choice. This badge runs Adafruit’s CircuitPython, and can thus be programmed over the USB connection in the same way as any other CircuitPython board. To test this I put aside my GNU/Linux laptop, and picked up something considerably less versatile to test its ease of use: a Chromebook.


# configure I2C
i2c = busio.I2C(board.SCL, board.SDA)

# turn on LED drivers
sdb = DigitalInOut(board.SDB)
sdb.direction = Direction.OUTPUT
sdb.value = True

# set up the two LED drivers
display = adafruit_is31fl3731.Matrix(i2c, address=0x74)
display2 = adafruit_is31fl3731.Matrix(i2c, address=0x77)

text_to_show = "BornHack 2020 - make clean"

CircuitPython devices mount as a disk drive in which can be found a Python file that can be edited with the code of your choice. The BornHack badge ships with code to display a BornHack banner text, which serves as a quick introduction to the capabilities of its display. It’s noticeable that the text scrolling performance leaves something to be desired, but this microcontroller is hardly one of the more powerful supported by the CircuitPython platform. The Chromebook was happily able to edit the code, though viewing the Python serial console necessitated diving into its Linux virtual machine.

The BornHack badge then, an attractive design that fulfils the aim of being capable and easy to program through its use of the popular CircuitPython platform, and through its decent sized LED matrix and available GPIOs with the chance of seeing a use beyond the camp as a general purpose display/experimentation platform. It may not be the most powerful of badges, but it does its job well. In particular it has achieved the feat missed by so many others, of arriving at the camp fully assembled and with working hardware and software. You can see more about it in Thomas’ badge presentation at the camp (cut from a stream, talk begins at 5:27) which we’ve placed below the break.

We look forward to seeing its influence upon other similar badges. Meanwhile if you are interested, you can compare it with the 2019 BornHack badge which we reviewed last year.

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Hands-On: AND!XOR Unofficial DC28 Badge Embraces The Acrylic Stackup

Still hot from the solder party, a new AND!XOR badge just landed on my desk courtesy of the hacking crew that has been living the #badgelife for the past five years. Originally based on the Futurama character Bender, the design has morphed to the point that it’s no longer recognizable as a descendant of that belligerent robot. Instead we have a skeletal midget whose face is half covered by a gear-themed mask.

At first glance, you might not even notice the character design because you’re too distracted by the beautiful composure of the hardware. This year’s badge includes a double stack-up of acrylic on top of a red circuit-board. Anyone who has used acrylic bezels in a badge design can tell you the cost for material and laser cutting time is significant. In this case the overall aesthetic of the badge is based upon the look of the mirrored gold with the art detail laser etched into the back. It’s a unique bling without even turning the power on. Continue reading “Hands-On: AND!XOR Unofficial DC28 Badge Embraces The Acrylic Stackup”

CampZone 2020 Badge Literally Speaks To Us

The pandemic has left my usual calendar of events in shambles this year. Where I’d have expected to have spent a significant portion of my summer mingling with our wonderful and diverse community worldwide, instead I’m sitting at home cracking open a solitary Club-Mate and listening to muffled techno music while trying to imagine myself in a field somewhere alongside several thousand hackers.

As a knock-on effect of the event cancellations there’s another thing missing this summer, the explosion of creativity in the world of electronic conference badges has faltered. Badges are thin on the ground this year, so the few that have made it to production are to be treasured as reminders that life goes on and there will be another golden summer of hacker camps in the future. This year, the CampZone 2020 badge was given its own voice and perform neat tricks like presenting a programming interface via WebUSB!

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Hands-On: The Pandemic DEF CON Badge Is An Audio Cassette

My DEF CON Safe Mode badge just arrived in the mail this afternoon. The Vegas-based conference which normally hosts around 30,000 attendees every year has moved online in response to the global pandemic, and the virtual event spins up August 6-9. Known for creative badges, North America’s most well-known infosec con has a tick-tock cycle that alternates electronic and non-electronic badges from year to year. During this off-year, the badge is an obscure deprecated media: the audio cassette.

This choice harkens back to the DEF CON 23 badge which was an vinyl record — I have the same problem I did back in 2015… I lack access to playback this archaic medium. Luckily [Grifter] pointed everyone to a dump of the audio contents over at Internet Archive, although knowing how competitive the badge hacking for DEF CON is, I’m skeptical about the reliability of these files. Your best bet is to pull the dust cover off your ’88 Camry and let your own cassette roll in the tape deck. I also wonder if there are different versions of the tape.

But enough speculation, let’s look at what physically comes with the DEF CON 28 badge.

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The Hacker Hotel 2020 Badge

The art of the electronic conference badge has evolved over the last decade or more, such that for an individual example to be of note it now has to include some exceptional features. Perhaps a function that might previously have been considered impossible in a badge, or maybe an unusually beautiful design, an entertaining and compelling functionality, or it simply pushes the capabilities of an otherwise limited device in an unusually ingenious way. The badge from the recent Hacker Hotel 2020 comes from the same badge team that created the software platform derived from the SHA 2017 badge, and it ticks many of these boxes by combining a genuine work of art with a set of delightfully intricate puzzles at enough levels to interest all participants in the event.

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Watch Linux Boot On Your Hackaday Superconference Badge

Last year’s Hackaday Superconference badge was an electronic tour de force, packing an ECP5 FPGA shoehorned into a Game Boy-like form factor and shipping with a RISC-V core installed that together gave an almost infinite badge hacking potential. It did not however run Linux, and that’s something [Greg Davill] has addressed, as he’s not only running Linux on his badge, but also a framebuffer that allows him to use the badge screen as the Linux terminal screen. Finally you can watch Linux boot on your Superconference badge itself, rather than over its serial port.

He’s achieved this by changing essentially everything: from the new VexRiscv CPU core, to new video drivers and a VGA terminal courtesy of Frank Buss, now part of the LiteVideo project. It’s not quite a fully fledged Linux powerhouse yet, but you can find it in a GitHub repository should you have a mind to try it yourself. Paging back through his Twitter feed reveals the effort he’s put into this work over the last few months, and shows that it’s been no easy task.

For those keeping score at home, this is an open hardware design, running an open CPU core, with community-designed open-source peripherals, compiled by an open-source toolchain, running an open-source operating system. And it’s simply a fantastic demo for the badge, showing off how flexible the entire system is. One of the best parts of writing for Hackaday is that our community is capable of a huge breadth of amazing pieces of work, and this is an exemplar of that energy. We can’t wait to see what Greg and any other readers tempted to try it will come up with.

If you’d like to refresh your memory over the 2019 Supercon badge, here’s our write-up at the time.

Developing Retro Games For Conference Badges With Kate Morris

PCB badges have exploded in popularity in recent years. Starting out as a fun token of entry to a conference, they’re now being developed by all manner of independent groups, with DEFCON serving as the heart of the #badgelife movement. After DEFCON 26, Kate Morris and associates decided to undertake the development of their own badge, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing. Kate’s talk at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference serves to tell the tale of creating a retro game to run on a badge platform.

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