Blade Runner showed us a dystopian megatropolis vision of Los Angeles in the far-off future. What was a distant dream for the 1982 theater-goes (2019) is now our everyday. We know Los Angeles is not perpetually overcast, flying cars are not cruising those skies, and replicants are not hiding among the population. Or… are they?
The LayerOne conference takes place in greater Los Angeles and this year it adopted a Blade Runner theme in honor of that landmark film. My favorite part of the theme was the conference badge modeled after a Voight-Kampff machine. These were used in the film to distinguish replicants from humans, and that’s exactly what this badge does too. In the movies, replicants are tested by asking questions and monitoring their eyes for a reaction — this badge has an optional eye-recognition camera to deliver this effect. Let’s take a look!
It has been fascinating to watch the rise of the #BadgeLife community in North America, and a little sad when viewed from a European perspective that their creative vibrancy has not quite fully made it across the Atlantic. It’s pleasing therefore to report on something traveling in the opposite direction. We’ve found a #BadgeLife creation that’s as American as they come, but which hides a bit of European flavor under its shell.
The DC27 Multi Pass is a Def Con indie badge themed as a prop from the film The Fifth Element. That is not its only trick though, because under the hood it runs the ESP32-based badge.team, the badge software platform created by the team from the Netherlands who brought us the SHA 2017 and Hacker Hotel 2019 badges. Like those two it sports an e-ink screen and a set of touch buttons, which they’ve very neatly incorporated into the Multi Pass design. The badge.team ecosystem brings with it a fully-functional and stable hackable badge platform with MicroPython apps and an app library (We won’t call it a store, it’s all free!) referred to as the hatchery. There is even a Hackaday logo nickname, should you have one of these badges and wish to identify yourself as a reader.
The launch of a new #BadgeLife badge is always cool, but with the best will in the world it is not in itself news. Where this one does, however, get interesting is that it proves that badge.team is a viable route to getting full event badge functionality into an indie badge without the heartache of creating a software platform. It also serves as a fascinating perspective on why the USA has spawned its artistic badge scene while Europe has less diversity. The whole Def Con experience is extremely expensive, while European hacker camps are relatively not so. There is no need for a European hacker to finance their trip to EMF Camp by selling badges, so for many people, the impetus to create finds its outlet in other directions. It would be nice to think that European badge scene will in time evolve as far as the US one, but meanwhile, it’s good to see the Netherlands community supplying their platform to what we think will be a very interesting Def Con indie badge.
The artistic elite exists in a stratum above we hoi polloi, a world of achingly trendy galleries, well-heeled collectors, and art critics who act as gatekeepers to what is considered the pinnacle du jour of culture. Artistic movements that evolve outside this bubble may be derided or ignored as naive and unsophisticated, even in complete denial of their raw creative edge. When they are discovered by the establishment a few of their artists are selected and anointed, while inevitably the crucible in which they were formed is forgotten. On the streets of Bristol the incredible work of far more graffiti artists can be seen than just that of Banksy.
Our community has an art form all of its own, in the guise of PCB artwork and the #BadgeLife community. One day you will see electronic badges from darlings of the art world behind glass in those trendy galleries, but for now they live in glorious abundance in the wild. Here at Hackaday we are lucky enough to have in Brian Benchoff a colleague who is pushing the boundaries of PCB art, and at the Hackaday Superconference he took us through one of his more recent pieces of work.
The colour palette of a typical printed circuit board is limited by the combination of fibreglass, copper, soldermask, plating, and silkscreen its designer selects. Thus while the variety of soldermask colours and plating materials can make for an eye-catching work, they have remained a colour-tinted near monochrome. The Holy Grail of the PCB artist has been to step into the world of full colour, and Brian has been pursuing that goal by exploring pad printing to produce extra colours beyond the sodermask..
It’s a subject he’s written about here in the past, and he introduces it in the talk with a look at existing badge artwork and a mention of an expensive commercial inkjet process before considering the type of printing you see daily on the sides of promotional pens. Those company titles are deposited on pens using pad printing, an offset process in which ink is first deposited upon a photo-etched metal plate before being picked up on a silicone rubber pad for transfer to the object to be printed. It’s not the panacea for all coloured-PCB tasks, but for adding relatively small blocks of pigment to an otherwise monochromatic board it can be very successful.
Brian’s examples are a panelised set of Tindie badges as a homage to the rock band Kiss, and his Tide pod addon containing a serial number in an EEPROM that was part of a Blockchain-inspired game. The Kiss Tindie badges use black soldermask with extensive white silkscreen and a modest area of red pad printing for the stage makeup, while the Tide addon makes clever use of the same swoosh printed in alternate colours at 180 degrees to each other.
In both cases there is some labour involved in creating the prints, and as his detailed write-up of printing the Tide pods reminds us, the process of creating the printing plate is not exactly an easy one. But it remains the best way yet to add extra colours to a board without paying a small fortune for the inkjet process, and if you’d like to put your own designs at the bleeding edge of PCB art you might wish to read his writeups and watch the video below the break.
This is just one example of the kind of manufacturing techniques, and electronic design principles on display at the Hackaday Superconference. There’s another Supercon just around the corner, so grab your ticket and send in your own talk proposal right away!
The obsession with over-the-top-hardware conference badges means that we as attendees get to enjoy a stream of weird and wonderful electronic gadgets. But for the folks putting these conferences on, getting a badge designed and manufactured in time for the event can be a stressful and expensive undertaking. To keep things on track, the designs will often cut corners and take liberties that you’d never see in commercial products. But of course, that’s part of their charm.
As a case in point, the OLED display on the 2019 KiCon badge is held on with just four soldered header pins, and can easily be bent or even snapped off. So [Jose Ignacio Romero] took it upon himself to develop a 3D printable mount which integrates with the PCB and gives the display some mechanical support. Any KiCon attendees who are looking to keep their badge in peak fighting condition for the long haul might want to start warming their extruders.
The design of this upgrade was made all the easier thanks to the fact that the KiCon badge is (naturally) open hardware. That meant [Jose] could import the PCB files directly into FreeCAD and have a virtual model of the badge to work with. This let him check the clearances and position of components without having to break out the calipers and measure the real thing.
Playing around with the virtual assembly, [Jose] quickly realized that the mounting holes in the OLED display don’t actually line up with the holes in the PCB; potentially why the screen didn’t get mounted on the final hardware. Once this misalignment was characterized, he was able to factor it into his design: the PCB side gets screwed down, and the screen snaps into printed “nubs” on the top of the mount.
The process for applying an electroluminescent coating to printed circuit boards is, surprisingly, something we’ve covered before. Late last year, [Ben Krasnow] delved deep into a DIY EL display. The process is expensive, but all the products come from a company called Lumilor. The first step in this process is applying a thin conductive coating on a substrate with an airbrush. Since the entire idea of printed circuit boards is to have a layer of conductive material etched into any shape you want, the simple circuit board is the idea experimental platform for playing with EL displays. Traditionally, EL displays were made entirely with a silk screen process, like [Fran]’s ongoing attempt to recreate the Apollo DSKY display.
The electronics for this badge are simply a Microchip MIC4832 EL Driver, which converts the 3.something volts from the add-on header into 100 or so Volts AC at hundreds of Hz. This is a single-chip solution to driving EL displays, and the only other parts you need are an inductor, diode, and a few caps and resistors. An ATtiny85 can be used to blink the circuits, or, alternatively, you could copy [Ben]’s work and build a character EL display.
The process of applying an electroluminescent coating to a PCB does require a spray gun or airbrush, and the chemicals are a bit expensive. This, though, is pushing the boundaries of what can be done with artistic PCBs. It’s new applications of technology, simply as wearable electronics. It’s the best example of the possibilities of the medium and some of the best work that’s come out of the Badgelife scene.
One of the most artistic applications of electrical engineering in recent memory is the burgeoning badgelife movement. This is an odd collective of people who are dedicating their time to rendering their own accomplishments in printed circuit boards. Of the entire badgelife collective, one of the most visible efforts are in Shitty Add-Ons, with a particular focus on reverse-mounted LEDs. Yes, you can install SMD LEDs upside down, and if you have your copper layers right, the light will shine through the badge.
For truly reverse-mounted PCBs, there are two options. The first, and most expensive, are ‘reverse gullwing’ LEDs. These LEDs are just like normal LEDs, except the SMD pads are reversed, allowing you to mount it so the light shines into the PCB. These LEDs are expensive, rare (only three companies make them), and they don’t really give off a lot of light. The other solution to reverse-mounting a LED is simply taking a standard 1206 SMD LED and manually soldering it upside-down. This is not pick and place friendly, although I’m sure you could find an LED manufacture that would put LEDs in reels upside-down if you want.
The takeaway for reverse mount LEDs is pick two: good, fast, or cheap. Reverse gullwing LEDs are expensive, but can be pick and placed and provide sufficient illumination. Hand-soldered LEDs installed upside down are cheap, slow, but also good.
But there is another option. Side view LEDs are a thing, and they can be pick and placed. You can get them in every color, and even UV. [Twinkle] has experimented with side-view LEDs in place of reverse mounted LEDs, and the results are promising. By putting the side view LED next to part of a PCB without copper or soldermask, there is some light bleed through the PCB. It’s somewhat uneven, but with a hot melt glue diffusor, you can get a somewhat decent bar of light being emitted through a PCB.
If you want to put blinky on a PCB, you have a lot of options. If you want to put blinky on a PCB without having any visible light source, these are your options. This is the state of the art in artistic PCBs, and we’re so glad [Twinkle] could share it with us.
Cyphercon 4.0 came to life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Thursday and the conference badge is a brilliant and engaging design. At first glance it looks like a fairly mundane rectangular badge. But a closer look reveals simplistic elegance wrapping around some clever mechanical design and the awesome interactive mechanism of being able to read paper tape.
That’s right, this badge can read the series of holes punched in the long paper strips you normally associate with old iron of 50 years ago.