The Whiskey Pirates have once again dropped an excellent electronic badge for DEF CON 29. This is, of course, unofficial, but certainly makes the list of the hottest custom bling seen so far this year.
I’m not able to make it to the con in person, but the Pirates sent over one of these badges anyway for an early look. It’s gorgeous, and peering into the circuit board it would be easy to think that the chip shortage ain’t got nothin’ on this badge. But this was possible only because of some very creative parts sourcing, and a huge dose of inspired design work.
DEF CON is canceled again this year, and this time that statement is at least partially true. There will be no special official badges this year. There is no challenge or mystery embedded in the official DC badge. This is the year that unofficial badges from villages and random attendees finally supersedes the official offering. This is badgelife, and for the next few weeks, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the unofficial badges of DEF CON.
The idea for [dorkengine]’s Puffy badge began last year with the so-called Bender badges from AND!XOR. Chalk this up to a story that ends with, ‘but you had to have been there’, but the Bender badges were wildly popular, sold like hotcakes, and were an astonishing success of independent badge craft at DC. [dorkengine] decided to get in on the action and build his own badge for DC 25.
The design of the Puffy badges is based on a highly stylized rendering of the OpenBSD logo and mascot. Why a pufferfish with Kardashian lips? [dorkengine] has a bunch of boxes in a closet running OpenBSD, and that’s a good enough reason for us.
An electronic badge must do something, and the feature list [dorkengine] came up with included some sort of wireless connectivity, hackability, a serial console, blinkenlights, and some sort of *nix-ish OS. OpenBSD didn’t make the cut, but [dorkengine] eventually stumbled upon the VoCore2, a tiny System on Module that runs Linux, has WiFi and a few GPIOs, and is barely an inch on a side.
After getting a good deal on a large order of VoCores, [dorkengine] started on the PCB. The circuit was simple enough with just a VoCore attached to a USB port, power adapter, and a few LEDs. The Puffy rendering translated beautifully into soldermask and silkscreen, and after a prototype from ITEAD Studio, [dorkengine] had 40 PCBs that worked perfectly.
So, what is [dorkengine] going to do with a box full of Puffy badges? He’ll be selling them for $40 around the con. That’s surprisingly inexpensive for a large PCB soldered to a $17 SoC. If you want to get your grubby mitts on one, you could email him or ping him on Twitter. Of course, if you want to make your own, [dorkengine] has the KiCad files and software available, but at this point, you’re looking at a very fast turnaround for a board house.
There are only a handful of people who can say they’ve built several successful electronic badges for conferences. Voja Antonic is not just on that list, he’s among the leaders in the field. There are a lot of pressures in this type of design challenge: aesthetics, functionality, and of course manufacturability. If you want to know how to make an exposed-PCB product that will be loved by the user, you need to study Voja’s work on the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference Badge. The badge is completely open, with all the design files, firmware, and a manual on the badge project page.
Between travelling from Belgrade to Pasadena and guiding production of 300 badges across the finish line before the conference deadline Voja took ill. He made it to the conference but without a voice he asked me to give his badge design talk for him. You can check that talk out below but let’s touch briefly on why Voja’s design is so spectacular.
DEF CON has become known for the creative electronic badges, and now we get to see a variety of them dangling from lanyards every year. This year, the Queercon badge stood out as the one that got the most people asking “where did you get that?!” Once again, [Evan Mackay], [George Louthan], [Jonathan Nelson], and [Jason Painter] delivered an awesome badge for this con-within-a-con for LGBT hackers and their friends.
The badge is a squid shape, with a nifty clear solder mask, printed on black FR4, and routed with natural curved traces. The squid eyes consist of sixty cyan LEDs, with RGB LEDs on the tentacles. The eyes make expressions, and the tentacles light up with a selectable pattern. Hitting the “ink” button shoots your pattern out to all nearby devices using the 2.4 GHz radio on board, and a set of small connectors can be used to “mate” with other badges to learn patterns. Yes, the Queercon badge always has suggestive undertones.
After playing with it for the whole con, we think this badge has some good lessons for electronic badge designers:
This badge used a phototransistor as a light sensor to measure ambient light and set the brightness accordingly. With over 60 LEDs, this helped the two AA batteries last for nearly the entire conference.
This badge has a power switch. That switch turns the badge off. This probably sounds very obvious, but it’s also unfortunately uncommon on electronic badges. The switch means people turn the badge off at night, and don’t have to yank batteries when firmware glitches.
The badge had two expansion ports on the squid’s head for adding hats. These were given power, and the connector spec was published before the event. Our favourite? A unicorn horn with a rainbow LED inside.
Social Badges are Fun
This has been the fourth Queercon badge in a row that communicated with other badges to unlock things. This is actually a neat way to get people to interact, and leads to a whole host of suggestive puns. Badginal intercourse, anyone?
We’ve heard that next year’s badge is already in the works, and we look forward to seeing what these folks come up with next. For now, you can grab all the hardware design files and get inspired for your own electronic badge build.
This year’s DEF CON badge is electronic, and there was much celebrating. This year’s DEF CON badge has an x86 processor, and there was much confusion.
The badge this year, and every year, except badges for 18, 17, 16, 15, and 14, designed by [Joe Grand], and badges from pre-history designed by [Dark Tangent] and [Ping], was designed by , and is built around an x86 processor. Specifically, this badge features an Intel Quark D2000 microcontroller, a microcontroller running at 32MHz, with 32kB of Flash and 8kB of RAM. Yes, an x86 badge, but I think an AT motherboard badge would better fulfill that requirement.
As far as buttons, sensors, peripherals, and LEDs go, this badge is exceptionally minimal. There are eight buttons, laid out as two directional pads, five LEDs, and a battery. There’s not much here, but with a close inspection of the ‘chin’ area of the badge, you can see how this badge was programmed.
As with any  joint, this badge features puzzles galore. One of these puzzles is exceptionally hard to photograph as it is in the bottom copper layer. It reads, “nonpareil bimil: Icnwc lsrbcx kc htr-yudnv ifz xdgm yduxnw yc iisto-cypzk”. Another bottom copper text reads, “10000100001 ΣA120215”. Get crackin’.
A gallery of the Human and Goon badges follows, click through for the best resolution we have.
This post has been updated to correct the record of who designed badges for previous cons.
As with any proper hardware con, the Hackaday Supercon needed a badge, and preferably one that was electronic. This conference centered around hardware creation, and the badge was no exception.
Designed on a tight timeline, it was possible to deliver a PCB badge for the attendees but it didn’t include microcontrollers, FPGAs, or software defined radios. This blank slate was the foundation for a completely unconstrained freestyle electronics soldering session.
The front of the badge includes a matte black solder mask with Truchet tiles of traces. Put multiple badges edge-to-edge and the pattern continues indefinitely. Inside of each curved trace is a through-hole via and those makes up a grid of holes on the back of the badge. On that back side there are also two rectangular grids that presented a nice area to which hackers soldered their components.
More than a few people took up the challenge of hacking their badge, and despite a strange pitch for the through holes (0.230″), and traces that didn’t go anywhere, there were some amazing builds. I would go so far to say that the badge hacking at the Supercon was the best I’ve ever seen, and this includes DEFCON and CCC.
[Bunnie] was at Burning Man this year, and to illuminate his camp members in the dark and dusty nights of the playa, he created a blinky badge. This isn’t just any badge stuffed with RGB LEDs; each of the badges were unique by the end of Burning Man. These badges were made unique not by twiddling dials or pressing buttons; all the color patterns were bred with badge sex.
This social experiment to replicate nature’s most popular means of creating more nature is built around a peer to peer radio. Each badge is equipped with a radio, a circle of RGB LEDs, and a bit of code that expresses the pattern of lights on the badge as a sequence of genes. When one badge gives consent to another badge, they ‘breed’, creating a new pattern of lights. If you’re wondering about the specifics of the act, each badge is a hermaphrodite, and each badge transmits a ‘sperm’ to fertilize the other plant’s ‘egg’. There’s even a rare trait included in the genome of the badge; each badge has a 3% chance of having a white pixel that moves around the circle of LEDs. [Bunnie] found this trait was more common after a few days, suggesting that people were selectively breeding their badges.
Of course, finding potential mates is a paramount concern for any sexual organism, and the sex badge has this covered, too. The 900MHz radio listens for other badges in close proximity, and when any are found their owners are displayed on an OLED display. This came in handy for [Bunnie] more than a few times – there’s no phones out there, and simply knowing your friends are within a hundred meters or so is a big help.
The entire badge platform is documented online, along with the code and spec for badge genes. Badges with some sort of wireless communication have been around for a while, but this is the first time that communication has been used for something more than sharing contact information or implementing a chat room. It’s a great idea, and something we hope to see more of in future con badges.