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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NodeConf EU Hackable Badge

During conferences, a name-tag is one of the first things people look at when bumping in to others – mentally trying to keep track of faces and names. But gone are the days when your name tag was a post-it stuck on your arm. Over the years, conference badges have become increasingly interesting and complex. Hackable electronic badges are becoming the norm, and not just at hardware cons. For the recently concluded NodeConfEU conference in Ireland, [Gordon Williams], of Espruino fame, designed a JavaScript centric hackable badge.

NodeConf EU is the key Node.js event in Europe, providing a forum for the Node.js community. So when they brain-stormed ideas for a conference badge, they obviously gravitated towards a design that could run JS. [Gordon]’s Puck.js fit the requirements perfectly, and he was tasked with creating a new design based on the Puck.js. The feature list included BlueTooth Low Energy, low power consumption so it could run off a CR2032 battery, a high contrast LCD, some buttons, NFC, and a prototyping area – all packaged in a beautiful hexagonal shaped PCB (obviously) to resemble the Node.js logo. The badges were programmed with attendee names, but the fun, juicy part could be accessed by pressing buttons in the Konami code sequence.

Easy to follow, detailed documentation helped hackers quickly get started with code examples. They were also presented several challenges to work through allowing them to get familiar with the badge. Hacked badges were entered for a Grand Challenge with a chance to win a free ticket to next years conference. The badge hardware and firmware are open source and source files are hosted in a Github repository. Check out a short overview of the badge in the video after the break.

Thanks to [Conor] from nearForm for letting us know about this awesome badge.

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Get Your Hands on a 2017 Hackaday Superconference Badge

We just got the shipment of hot Hackaday Superconference badges in our hands yesterday, and they’re frankly awesome. Due to great manufacturing partners and a fantastic design by [Mike Harrison], we ended up with too few manufacturing defects and too many badges. How’s that for a nice problem to have?

But our gain is your gain! We have enough badges for everyone who’s coming to the con, and we’re selling the rest on Tindie.

In case you missed it, the badge is a digital video camera, or at least that’s how it’s going to start out its life. It’s got a camera sensor, enough processing power on-board to handle the image data, a screen, and SD card storage. It’s also got a good assortment of buttons, and more importantly, prototyping space and an abundance of pins broken out for you to play with. For the nitty-gritty, see the badge’s Hackaday.io project page. We’ve coded up the obvious applications, added in some challenging puzzles, and now we’re handing them off to you.

Hackaday Badge History

What will you do with them? That remains to be seen. The first time we put on a Supercon, we made the best badge you’ve ever seen — a blank protoboard, and a big pile of parts. Add in an enthusiastic and creative crowd, and out pops magic. Last year, [Voja] produced a badge with finesse and more resources, adding blinkies, IR, and an accelerometer, and we saw hacks making use of each of the features. This year, we’ve pushed it even further. Now it’s your turn.

The Superconference is this weekend, and a few hundred Hackaday hackers will get their hands on this lump of open hardware. Something fantastic is certainly going to happen. If you couldn’t make it but still want to play along, now’s your chance!

Conference badges are a fantastic playground for hardware hackers: they’re a small enough project to get done, but large enough to do something interesting. Some badges, like [Brian Benchoff]’s badge for Tindie, are minimalistic. Others, like this unofficial badge for DEFCON, are quadcopters. In between, there’s room for artistry and aesthetics and just plain cleverness. And don’t forget utility. The 2017 Layer One conference badge (here on Hackaday.io) is easily converted into an OBD II CAN bus sniffer or a video game machine — your pick.

Hackaday loves custom hardware and badges like this are more than just a PCB full of components. They’re a piece of the culture from the event where they made their debut. We’re happy we can share that with some of the hackers who couldn’t make it to Supercon this year.

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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Building The Hackaday Superconference Badge

The best hardware conference is just a few weeks away. This is the Hackaday Superconference, and it’s two days of talks, an extra day of festivities, soldering irons, and an epic hardware badge. We’ve been working on this badge for a while now, and it’s finally time to share some early details. This is an awesome badge and a great example of how to manufacture electronics on an extremely compressed timetable. This is badgelife, the hardware demoscene of electronic conference badges.

So, what does this badge do? It’s a camera. It has games, and it’s designed by [Mike Harrison] of Mike’s Electric Stuff. He designed and prototyped this badge in a single weekend. On board is a PIC32 microcontroller, an OV9650 camera module, and a bright, crisp 128×128 resolution color OLED display. Tie everything together with a few buttons, and you have a badge that’s really incredible.

So, how do you get one? You’ve got to come to the Hackaday Superconference. This year we’re doing things a bit differently and opening the doors a day early to get the hacker village started with badge hacking topped off by a party that evening and everyone coming to Supercon is invited! This is a badge full of games, puzzles, and video capture and isn’t something to miss. We have less than 30 tickets left so grab your ticket now and read on.

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BOM Cost Optimization and Tindie Badge Engineering

For the last few months, I’ve been up to my neck in electronic conference badges. This year, I created the single most desirable badge at DEF CON. I also built a few Tindie badges, and right now I’m working on the logistics behind the Hackaday SuperConference badge. Sit tight on that last one — we’re doing something really, really special next month.

Most badge projects are one-off production runs. This is to be expected from a piece of hardware that’s only meant to be distributed at a single event. The Tindie badge is different. It’s now a thing, and we’re building multiple badges for all the cons and conferences Hackaday and Tindie are attending for the rest of the year. This means I have the opportunity to do hardware revisions on the Tindie badge. Right now I’ve built three versions of the Tindie and we’ve distributed about two thousand of these kits at DEF CON, Maker Faire New York, and the Open Hardware Summit.

After about two thousand units, I think we finally have this down. This is how I designed three versions of hardware in as many months and cut the BOM cost of each badge in half. This is bordering on a marginally impressive piece of engineering, and a great lesson on BOM cost optimization.

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An Unconference Badge That’s Never Gonna Give You Up

When your publication is about to hold a major event on your side of the world, and there will be a bring-a-hack, you abruptly realise that you have to do just that. Bring a hack. With the Hackaday London Unconference in the works this was the problem I faced, and I’d run out of time to put together an amazing PCB with beautiful artwork and software-driven functionality to amuse and delight other attendees. It was time to come up with something that would gain me a few Brownie points while remaining within the time I had at my disposal alongside my Hackaday work.

Since I am a radio enthusiast at heart, I came up with the idea of a badge that the curious would identify as an FM transmitter before tuning a portable radio to the frequency on its display and listening to what it was sending. The joke would be of course that they would end up listening to a chiptune version of [Rick Astley]’s “Never gonna give you up”, so yes, it was going to be a radio Rickroll.

The badge internals.
The badge internals.

I evaluated a few options, and ended up with a Raspberry Pi Zero as an MP3 player through its PWM lines, feeding through a simple RC low-pass filter into a commercial super-low-power FM transmitter module of the type you can legally use with an iPod or similar to listen on a car radio. To give it a little bit of individuality I gave the module an antenna, a fractal design made from a quarter wavelength of galvanised fence wire with a cut-off pin from a broken British mains plug as a terminal. The whole I enclosed in a surplus 8mm video cassette case with holes Dremmeled for cables, with the FM module using its own little cell and the Pi powered from a mobile phone booster battery clipped to its back. This probably gave me a transmitted field strength above what it should have been, but the power of those modules is so low that I am guessing the sin against the radio spectrum must have been minor.

At the event, a lot of people were intrigued by the badge, and a few of them were even Rickrolled by it. But for me the most interesting aspect lay not in the badge itself but in its components. First I looked at making a PCB with MP3 and radio chips, but decided against it when the budget edged towards £20 ($27). Then I looked at a Raspberry Pi running PiFM as an all-in-one solution with a little display HAT, but yet again ran out of budget. An MP3 module, Arduino clone, and display similarly became too expensive. Displays, surprisingly, are dear. So my cheapest option became a consumer FM module at £2.50 ($3.37) which already had an LCD display, and a little £5 ($6.74) computer running Linux that was far more powerful than the job in hand demanded. These economics would have been markedly different had I been manufacturing a million badges, but made a mockery of the notion that the simplest MCU and MP3 module would also be the cheapest.

Rickrolling never gets old, it seems, but evidently it has. Its heyday in Hackaday projects like this prank IR repeater seems to have been in 2012.