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.
To say that 2020 was a transformative year would be something of an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic completely changed the way we worked, learned, and lived. Despite all those jokes about how much time people spend on their devices rather than interacting face-to-face with other humans, it turns out that when you can’t get more than a few people together in the same room, it throws our entire society into disarray.
Our community had to rethink how we congregated, and major events like HOPE, DEF CON, and even our own Hackaday Supercon, had to be quickly converted into virtual events that tried with varying degrees of success to capture the experience of hundreds or thousands of hackers meeting up in real life. While few would argue that a virtual hacker convention can ever truly replace a physical one, we learned there are undeniable benefits to embracing the advantages offered by cyberspace. If nothing else, the virtual hacker meetups of 2020 saw a far larger and more diverse array of attendees and presenters than ever before.
As we begin seeing the first rays of light at the end of the long, dark, tunnel we’ve been stuck in, it’s clear that some of the changes that COVID-19 forced on our community are here to stay. As eager as we all are to get back to the epic hackfests of old, nobody wants to close the door on all those who would be unable to attend physically now that they’ve gotten to peek behind the curtain.
With this in mind, this year’s DEF CON is being presented in both physical and virtual forms simultaneously. If you made to Las Vegas, great. If not, you can follow along through chat rooms and video streams from the comfort of your own home. Following the theme, the DC29 badge is not only a practical tool for virtual attendees, but an electronic puzzle for those who are able to bring a few of them together physically. Let’s take a closer look at this socially distanced badge and the tech that went into it.
For years I’ve looked forward to seeing each new unofficial hardware badge that comes out of the #Badgelife powerhouse known as AND!XOR. A mix of new and interesting components, alternate-reality game, and memes, you never know what they’re going to throw down.
A bubble pack landed on my desk on Thursday with the newest offering, the AND!XOR electronic badge built for DEF CON 29, happening this weekend as a hybrid in-person and online conference. While each previous year upped the ante on complexity and manufacturing magic tricks, it’s no surprise considering the uncertainty of both the global pandemic and global chip shortage that they took a different tack. What we have here is a badge hacking puzzle that challenges you to just figure out how to put the thing together!
Year over year, the Queercon badge is consistently impressive. I think what’s most impressive about these badges is that they seemingly throw out all design ideas from the previous year and start anew, yet manage to discover a unique and addictive aesthetic every single time.
This year, there are two hardware badges produced by the team composed of Evan Mackay, George Louthan, Tara Scape, and Subterfuge. The one shown here is nicknamed the “Q” badge for its resemblance to the letter. Both get you into the conference, both are electronically interactive, but this one is like a control panel for an alternate reality game (ARG) that encourages interactivity and meaningful conversations. The other badge is the “C” badge. It’s more passive, yet acts as a key in the ARG — you cannot progress by interacting with only one type of badge, you must work with people sporting both badge types so that Queercon attendees who didn’t purchase the Q badge still get in on the fun.
The most striking feature on this badge is a custom membrane keyboard tailored to playing the interactive game across all badges at the conference. But I find that the eInk screen, RJ12 jack for connectivity, and the LED and bezel arrangements all came together for a perfect balance of function and art. Join me after the break for a closer look at what makes this hardware so special.
Yesterday we published a first look at the hardware found on the DEF CON 27 badge. Sporting a magnetically coupled wireless communications scheme rather than an RF-based one, and an interesting way to attach the lanyard both caught my attention right away. But the gemstone faceplate and LED diffuser has its own incredible backstory you don’t want to miss.
This morning Joe Grand — badge maker for this year and many of the glory years of hardware badges up through DC18 — took the stage to share his story of conceptualizing, prototyping, and shepherding the manufacturing process for 28,500 badges. Imagine the pressure of delivering a delightful concept, on-time, and on budget… well, almost on budget. During the talk he spilled the beans on the quartz crystal hanging off the front side of every PCB.
Second up on the surprise list is the badge maker himself. The design is a throwback to days of yore as Joe Grand steps up to the plate once again. Veterans know him as Kingpin, and his badge-making legacy runs deep. Let’s jump in and take a look.
The AND!XOR team have somehow managed to outdo themselves once again this year. Their newest unofficial hardware badge for DEF CON 26 just arrived. It’s a delightful creation in hardware, software, and the interactive challenges built into both.
They call this the “Wild West of IoT”, a name that draws from the aesthetic as well as the badge-to-badge communications features. Built on the ESP32-WROVER module which brings both WiFi and Bluetooth to the party, the badges are designed to form a wireless botnet at the conference. Anyone with a badge can work to advance their level and take more and more control of the botnet as they do.
Check out the video overview and then join me below for a deeper dive into all this badge has to offer.