DEF CON has become the de facto showplace of the #Badgelife movement. It’s a pageant for clever tricks that transform traditional green rectangular circuit boards into something beautiful, unique, and often times hacky.
Today I’ve gathered up about three dozen badge designs seen at DC27. It’s a hint of what you’ll see in the hallways and meetups of the conference. From hot-glue light pipes and smartphone terminal debugging consoles to block printing effects and time of flight sensors, this is a great place to get inspiration if you’re thinking of trying your hand at unofficial badge design.
By now most of us should be used to backlit LEDs, in which a bare board with no copper or soldermask as an LED mounted on its reverse side to shine through as if with a diffuser. [Wim Van Gool] has created such an LED display with a twist, instead of reverse mounted LEDs his Shitty Add-On for Area3001 hackerspace in Leuven, Belgium has a set of WS2812 addressable LEDs shining upwards through a void in a stack of PCBs to the diffuser. The effect is of something that looks about the size and shape of a Kit-Kat finger with a glowing hackerspace logo on the front, and it breaks away from the SAO norm.
Full details are on the GitHub repository for the project, in which we find both large and small takes on the same idea. It appears that there is no onboard processor and that the WS2812s are driven from the host badge, but that doesn’t take away from the ingenuity of the design.
The through-PCB diffuser seems to be the badge must-have of the moment, we’ve seen quite a few such as the recent Numberwang badge. That’s the exciting thing about badge design though, one always knows that there will be a new twist along in the next crop of badges, to keep everything fresh.
We have covered the astonishing diversity of conference badges to a great extent over the years, and we are always pleased and surprised at the creativity and ingenuity that goes into their creation. But the saddest thing about so many badges is that after the event they go into the drawer and are never touched again, such a missed opportunity!
It’s a trend that [Dan] has reversed though, with his rotary dial phone brought to life with an EMF Tilda MkIV. This was the badge from last year’s EMF Camp 2018, and its defining feature was a built-in GSM mobile phone. We didn’t give it a full review at the time because it has problems with the GSM part at the event and it would have been unfair to display what was an amazing badge in a negative light, but once we got it home it was straightforward enough to put a commercial SIM in the slot and use the public networks with it.
[Dan]’s phone is an Eastern European model that came to him through his grandfather. Inside it’s a relatively conventional design, into which he’s patched a couple of the Tilda’s I/O lines from the dial through a debounce circuit. But simply selecting a couple of lines wasn’t enough, as most of those on its expansion port come via a port expander. He needed inputs that could generate an interrupt, so he hijacked a couple from the on-board joystick. He’s included Python code which you can see in action in the video below. It’s important to note that he’s yet to hook up the audio to the badge so this is a work in progress, but it’s an interesting project nevertheless.
There are a few common lessons that get repeated by anyone who takes on the task of assembling a few hundred PCBs, but there are also unique insights to be had. [DominoTree] shared his takeaways after making a couple hundred electronic badges for DEFCON 26 (that’s the one before the one that just wrapped up, if anyone’s keeping track.) [DominoTree] assembled over 200 Telephreak badges and by the end of it he had quite a list of improvements he wished he had made during the design phase.
Some tips are clearly sensible, such as adding proper debug and programming interfaces, or baking an efficient test cycle into the firmware. Others are not quite so obvious, for example “add a few holes to your board.” Holes can be useful in unexpected ways and cost essentially zero. Even if the board isn’t going to be mounted to anything, a few holes can provide a way to attach jigs or other hardware like test fixtures.
Other advice is more generic but no less important, as with “eliminate as many steps as possible.” Almost anything adds up to a significant chunk of time when repeated hundreds of times. To the basement hacker, something such as pre-cut and pre-tinned wires might seem like a shameful indulgence. But cutting, stripping, tinning, then hand-soldering a wire adds up to significant time and effort by iteration number four hundred (that’s two power wires per badge) even if one isn’t staring down a looming deadline.
While wandering through CCCamp last weekend, in between episodes of forcing Marmite on the unwary, I ran into the well-known Hackaday.io user [Prof. Fartsparkle]. In a last-minute sprint leading up to the con he built himself the Numberwang badge to join in the colorful after-dark festivities with beautiful board artwork and remarkably enjoyable backlit LED display.
The Numberwang badge itself is a clone of the Adafruit Itsy Bitsy sporting an ATSAMD21G18 CPU and running CircuitPython. It has an LED strip on the reverse shining through the bare FR4 as a diffuser, and the Numberwang effect of selecting random numbers is achieved by a host of random touchable numbers sprinkled across its front. For something he freely admits was a last minute project, we think he’s done a pretty good job!
We’ve reported on the world of electronic badges here at Hackaday since their earliest origins in [Joe Grand]’s work for DEF CON 14 in 2006. In that time we’ve seen an astonishing variety of creations, covering everything from abstract artwork to pure functionality in a wearable device. But it’s not been quite so often that we’ve looked at the other side of the BadgeLife coin, so it’s fascinating to read [John Adams]’ account of the work that went into the production of this year’s 500-piece run of the Da Bomb DEF CON indie badge.
In it, [John] goes over scheduling worries, component sourcing issues, PCB assembly delays, and an in-depth look into the finances of such a project. In case anyone is tempted to look at Badgelife as the route to millions, it rapidly becomes apparent that simply not losing too much money is sometimes the best that can be hoped for. There were a few design problems, one of them being that the SAO I2C bus was shared with the LED controller, resulting in some SAOs compatibility issues. In particular the AND!XOR DOOM SAO had its EEPROM erased, creating something of a headache for the team.
A surprise comes in the distribution: obviously shipping is expensive, so you’d think badge pick-ups at the con would be straightforward alternative. Unfortunately, they became something of a millstone in practice, and organising them was a Herculean task. Astoundingly, some paying customers didn’t bother turn up for their badges. Which was especially infuriating since the team lost valuable conference time waiting for them.
Some of you are BadgeLife creators and will nod sagely at this. Still more of you will wish you were BadgeLife creators and find it a useful primer. For everyone else it’s a fascinating read, and maybe makes us appreciate our badges a bit more.
Last weekend 5,000 people congregated in a field north of Berlin to camp in a meticulously-organized, hot and dusty wonderland. The optional, yet official, badge for the 2019 Chaos Communication Camp was a bit tardy to proliferate through the masses as the badge team continued assembly while the camp raged around them. But as each badge came to life, the blinkies that blossomed each dusk became even more joyful as thousands strapped on their card10s.
Yet you shouldn’t be fooled, that’s no watch… in fact the timekeeping is a tacked-on afterthought. Sure you wear it on your wrist, but two electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors for monitoring heart health are your first hint at the snoring dragon packed inside this mild-mannered form-factor. The chips in question are the MAX30001 and the MAX86150 (whose primary role is as a pulse sensor but also does ECG). We have high-res ADCs just waiting to be misused and the developers ran with that, reserving some of the extra pins on the USB-C connector for external devices.
There was a 10€ kit on offer that let you solder up some electrode pads (those white circles with gel and a snap for a solid interface with your body’s electrical signals) to a sacrificial USB-C cable. Remember, all an ECG is doing is measuring electrical impulses, and you can choose how to react to them. During the workshop, one of the badge devs placed the pads on his temples and used the card10 badge to sense left/right eye movement. Wicked! But there are a lot more sensors waiting for you on these two little PCBs.