Retro Computer Badge for Hackaday Belgrade Has Everything You Wished for Back in the Day

The hardware badge for the Hackaday Belgrade conference is a Retro Computer that you wear around your neck. I have one in my hands and it’s truly a work of art. It’s beautiful, it’s fun to play with, and it will be an epic platform for a glorious weekend of badge hacking! Check out the first look video, then join me below as I drill down into the details.

Get your ticket now for Hackaday Belgrade, our premier European hardware conference at the end of this month. It’s a day filled with talks, works, food, fun, and of course everyone through the door gets one of these incredible badges. The best part is the community that turns out for this event and that includes the Hacker Village that takes hold in the evening. We’ll be hacking the badges until the wee hours of the morning alongside hardware demos, presentations, lightning talks, and live IDM and DJ sets.

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Building Badges The Hard Way

What’s a hacker to do to profess his love for his dearest beloved? [Nitesh Kadyan] built his lady-love this awesome LED pendant – the LED BLE Hearty Necklace Badge.

The hardware is pretty vanilla by today’s hacker standards. An ATMega328p  does most of the heavy lifting. An HM-11 BLE module provides connection to an Android mobile app. Two 74HC595 shift registers drive 16 columns of red LEDs and a ULN2803 sinks current from the 8 rows. The power section consists of a charger for the 320mAh LiPo and an LDO for the BLE module. All the parts are SMD with the passives mostly being 0603, including the 128 LEDs.

128 LEDs soldered wrong way around

[Nitesh] didn’t get a stencil made for his first batch of boards, so all the parts were painstakingly soldered manually and not in a reflow oven. And on his first board, he ended up soldering all of the LED’s the wrong way around. Kudos to him for his doggedness and patience.

The Arduino code on the ATmega is also quite straightforward. All characters are stored as eight bytes each in program memory and occupy 8×8 pixels on the matrix. The bytes to be displayed are stored in a buffer and the columns are left shifted fast enough for the marquee text effect. The Android app is built by modifying a demo BLE app provided by Google. The firmware, Android app, and the KiCAD design files are all hosted on his Github repository.

[Nitesh] is now building a larger batch of these badges to bring them to hillhacks – the annual hacker-con for making and hacking in the Himalayas. Scheduled for later this month, you’ll have to sign up on the mailing list for details and if you’d like to snag one of these badges. To make it more interesting, [Nitesh] has added two games to the code – Tetris and Snakes. Hopefully, this will spur others to create more games for the badge, such as Pong.

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You Can Learn a Lot From a Blinkenrocket

At this year’s Chaos Communication Congress, we caught up with [muzy] and [overflo], who were there with a badge and soldering project they designed to teach young folks how to solder and program. Blinkenrocket is a basically a 64-LED matrix display and just enough support hardware to store and display animations, and judging by the number of blinking rockets we saw around the necks of attendees, it was a success.

Their talk at 34C3 mostly concerns the production details, design refinements, and the pitfalls of producing thousands of a thing. If you’re thinking of building a hardware kit or badge on this scale, you should really check it out and crib some of their production optimization tricks.

For instance, instead of labelling the parts “C2” or “R: 220 Ohms”, they used a simple color-coding scheme. This not only makes it easier for kids to assemble, but it also means that they didn’t have to stick 1,000 part labels on every component. Coupled with [overflo]’s Zerhacker, SMD parts in strips were cut to the right length and color-coded in one step, done by machine.

The coolest feature of the Blinkenrocket itself is the audio programming interface. It’s like in the bad old days of software stored on cassette tapes, but it’s a phenomenal interface for getting a simple animation out of a web app and straight into a piece of minimal hardware — just plug it into a laptop or cell phone’s audio out and press “play” in the browser. The original design tried to encode the data in the pulse-length of square waves, but this turned out to be very hardware dependent. The final design used frequency-shift keying. What’s old is new again.

Everything you could want to know about the design, its code, and even the website itself are up on the project’s GitHub page, so go check it out. If you’d like to arrange a Blinkenrocket workshop yourself, shoot [muzy] or [overflo] an e-mail. Full disclosure: [overflo] gave us a kit, the “hard-mode” SMD one with 0805 1206 parts, and it was fun to assemble and program.

Three Ways to Etch Snazzy Brass Nameplates

It’s the little touches that make a project, and a nice nameplate can really tie a retro build together. Such badges are easy enough to make with a CNC machine, but if you don’t have access to machine tools you can put chemistry to work for you with these acid-etched brass nameplates.

The etching method that [Switch and Lever] uses to get down to brass plaques will be intimately familiar to anyone who has etched a PCB before. Ferric chloride works as well on brass as it does on copper, and [Switch and Lever] does a good job explaining the chemistry of the etching process and offers some tips on making up etching solution from powdered ferric chloride. But the meat of the video below is the head-to-head test of three different masking methods.

The first method uses a laser printer and glossy paper ripped from a magazine to create a mask. The toner is transferred to the brass using an office laminator, and the paper removed with gentle rubbing before etching. For the other two candidates he uses a laser engraver to remove a mask of plain black spray paint in one case, or to convert special laser marking paint to a mask in the other.

We won’t spoil the surprise as to which gave the best results, but we think you’ll be pleased with how easy making classy nameplates can be. You can also use electrolytic methods for a deeper etch, but we think acid etching is a little more approachable for occasional use.

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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.