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.
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.
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.
It’s something of an unwritten rule at this point that you can’t hold a hacking conference without providing a badge with at least a few LEDs on it. Not only can they be a great way to learn electronics for the attendees that tinker with them, but they’re a keepsake to commemorate the event. As a perfect example, [Matt Agius] recently wrote in to tell us about the badge he’s made for the upcoming CarolinaCon 16.
As [Matt] explains, the idea with this badge was to make it as easy as possible for attendees to assemble. In the final version there are only going to be three components that need to be soldered, so even if they’ve never touched SMD components before, they should still be able to get their badge lit up.
The badge largely makes up for its simplistic electronics with some fantastic board art on the flip side. The two red LEDs illuminate the eyes of a rather sinister looking octopus that’s ensnaring the unsuspecting state of North Carolina in its tentacled grip. The art was originally done by [Katie Dorn], with [Matt] spearheading its conversion into something that could be sent out for PCB fabrication.
Anyone looking to add this latest entry to their growing collection of badges will need to attend CarolinaCon on April 10th and 11th, where you’ll be able to catch a talk [Matt] is giving on the subject called “How to design Printed Circuit Boards for Hacking and for Art”.
Kids of the 1990’s would call you a liar if you told them that within thirty years you’d go to a conference and be handed a Super Nintendo Entertainment System to wear around your neck. But that’s what happened with the badge Jeroen Domburg, aka [Sprite_TM], designed for the 2019 Hackaday Superconference. It’s built in the Game Boy form factor, complete with a cartridge slot, beautiful screen, and the familiar button layout. But there’s so much more here, like the HDMI port on the bottom and the ability to completely reconfigure the device by dropping a binary file onto it over USB.
Of course what makes this possible is the FPGA at the heart of the design. The story of how the badge was developed is shared in great detail during Sprite’s Supercon talk. The timeline, the hardware choices, and the oopses along the way make for a great story. But what you really don’t want to miss is how he built the machine inside of the FPGA — the collection of Verilog code known as “gateware” that brings together the System-on-a-Chip (SoC). From his delight at being able to spawn more processor cores by changing a single variable, to the fascinating SNES-inspired graphics subsystem, the inside story shared below is even more interesting than the physical device itself.
Today, nearly every modern consumer device wants to connect to the Internet for some reason. From your garage door opener to each individual smart bulb, the Internet of Things has arrived in full force. But the same can’t be said for most of our beloved conference badges. Wanting to explore the concept a bit, [Ayan Pahwa] set out to create his own MQTT-connected badge that he’s calling CloudBadge.
As this was more of a software experiment, all of the hardware is off-the-shelf. The badge itself is an Adafruit PyBadge, which doesn’t normally have any networking capabilities, but does feature a Feather-compatible header on the back. To that [Ayan] added a AirLift FeatherWing which allows him to use the ESP32 as a co-processor. He also added a strip of NeoPixel LEDs to the lanyard, though those could certainly be left off if you’re not looking to call quite so much attention to yourself.
The rest was just a matter of software. [Ayan] came up with some code that uses the combined hardware of the PyPadge and ESP32 to connect to Adafruit.io via MQTT. Once connected, the user is able to change the name that displays on the screen and the colors of the RGB LEDs through the cloud service. If you used something like this for an actual conference badge, the concept could easily be expanded to do things like flashing the badge’s LEDs when a talk the wearer wanted to see is about to start.
The modern conference badge has come a long way from simple blinking LEDs, offering challenges that you’ll likely still be working on long after the event wraps up. Concerns over security and the challenge of maintaining the necessary infrastructure during the event usually means they don’t include networking features, but projects like CloudBadge show the idea certainly has merit.
In the quest to advance the art of the electronic badge, the boundaries of what is possible to manufacture in small quantities are continually tested. Full-colour PCBs, injection moulding, custom keyboards, and other wow factor techniques have all been tried, leading to some extremely impressive creations. With all this innovation then it’s sometimes easy to forget that clever design and a really good idea can produce an exceptional badge with far more mundane materials.
The 10th InCTF cybersecurity contest held at Amrita, Kerala, India, had a Star Wars themed badge designed by Team bi0s for the event. It takes the form of a Millennium Falcon-shaped PCB, with a NodeMCU ESP8266 board mounted on it, a shift register, small OLED display, and the usual array of buttons and LEDs. The fun doesn’t stop there though, because it also packs a light-dependent resistor and a laser pointer diode that forms part of one of its games. Power for this ensemble comes courtesy of a set of AA cells on its underside.
They took a novel approach to the badge’s firmware, with a range of different firmwares for different functions instead of all functions contained in one. These could be loaded through means of a web-based OTA updater. Aside from a firmware for serial exploits there was an Asteroids game, a Conway’s Game Of Life, and for us the star of the show: a Millennium Cannon laser-tag game using that laser. With this, attendees could “shoot” others’ LDRs, with three “hits” putting their opponent’s badge out of action for a couple of minutes.
Unusually this badge is a through-hole design as a soldering teaching aid, but its aesthetics do not suffer for that. We like its design and we especially like the laser game, we look forward to whatever next Team bi0s produce in the way of badges.