Hands-On: Queercon 16 Hardware Badge Shows Off Custom Membrane Keyboard

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.

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DEF CON 27: The Badge Talk; Or That One Time Joe Grand Sourced 30,000 Gemstones

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.

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First Look At DEF CON 27 Official Badge; Kingpin Is Back!

The first big surprise Vegas had in store for everyone is that the DEF CON badge is an electronic badge this year. It’s traditionally been the DC practice to alternate years between electronic and non-electronic badges. Last year we had a fantastic electronic badge designed by the ToyMakers, so I had expected something more passive like the vinyl LP badge from a few years ago. What a pleasant surprise to learn otherwise!

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.

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Video Review: AND!XOR DEF CON 26 Badge

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.

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The Latest Hacker Camp Badge Comes From BornHack

If you’re a fan of outdoor hacker camps, or if you’re a SHACamp attendee who’s still coming down from the event high, you may already know about the upcoming BornHack 2017 hacker camp on the Danish island of Bornholm, from the 22nd to the 29th of this month. It’s a smaller camp than many of the others on the calendar, but it makes up for that with a quite reasonable ticket price, a much longer duration, and a location that is a destination in itself.

Today we have news of the BornHack badge announcement, and though the details are a little sketchy it’s safe to say that there should be plenty there to keep attendees occupied. The irregularly-shaped PCB contains a Silicon Labs “Happy Gecko” EFM32 ARM Cortex M0 microcontroller, a 128×64 pixel OLED display, and the usual array of I/O lines. There is no information about its connectivity as it seems the BornHack folks prefer to run a teaser campaign, but we’d be surprised if there wasn’t some kind of wireless module on the reverse.

Barring a transportation miracle it’s unlikely that any of the Hackaday team will be making it to BornHack, but that’s our loss. It may not be one of the larger camps, but it looks to offer no less of the atmosphere you’d expect from a European hacker camp. At the time of writing there are still BornHack tickets to be had, so head on over to their website if you fancy a week at a hacker camp on a Danish island.

All The Hardware Badges Of DEF CON 25

Hardware is the future. There is no better proof of this than the hardware clans that have grown up around DEF CON, which in recent years has become known as Badgelife. I was first drawn to the custom hardware badges of the Whiskey Pirates at DC22 back in 2014. Hardware badges were being made by several groups at that time but that was mainly happening in isolation while this year the badge makers are in constant contact with each other.

A slack channel just for those working on their own DEF CON badges sprung up. This served as tech support, social hour, and feature brainstorming for all on the channel. In the past badges were developed without much info getting out during the design process. This year, there was a huge leap forward thanks to a unified badgelife API: the badge makers colluded with each on a unified communcations protocol. In the multitude of images below you frequently see Rigado modules used. These, and some others using different hardware, adopted a unified API for command and control, both through makers’ “god mode” badges, and for wireless gaming between participant badges.

I was able to get into the badge makers meetup on Thursday of DEF CON. What follows is the result of a frantic few hours trying to get through the sheer volume of badges and people to share with you all the custom hardware on display. One thing is for sure — there were literally thousands of custom badges built and sold/distributed during DEF CON. I can’t wait to see what the artisanal hardware industry will look like in five years time.

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Badge From Diamond Age Comes To DEF CON

We’re huge fans of [Neal Stephenson’s] work and are usually looking to assign some of his vision to the gear that pops up in the real world. But there’s no stretching or squinting necessary with this one. [Kerry Scharfglass] has built a functioning Drummer’s Badge from the foundational Sci-Fi novel The Diamond Age.

The badge is called Sympetrum, which is a genus of dragonfly. In explaining what the badge is and does, [Kerry] instructs you to go and read the book first and we couldn’t agree more. This isn’t recommended reading; if you’re a geek you need to read this book.

The dragonfly badges are from a portion of the book that gets pretty weird, but the gist is that rod-logic (machines build from microscopic carbon nanotubes) is so pervasive that at all times you’re covered in mites that are actually machines. At a party, one of the characters notices everyone is wearing dragonfly pins that begin to pulse with the music and synchronize with each other. They’re actually indicators of what the mites within the wearers’ bodies are doing — synchronizing people with other people.

This badge is a working recreation of that, presumably without the billions of mites controlling people (but who knows, it is DEF CON). At the center of the badge is an STM32 driving ten APA102 modules. Interactivity is based on IR signaling. The badge will cycle random color animations when alone. But each badge also projects clock sync and metadata over infrared, so put some of them in the same room and they’ll tend to synchronize.

Simple, beautiful, and a great geeky backstory. This example of Badgelife proves that hardware badges don’t need to be packed with features, or have a huge BOM cost. If done well, you can do an awful lot with just a little hardware and strong dose of inspiration. It also makes hand-assembly a lot more approachable, which is what you can see in the images above. Thanks [Kerry] for giving us an early look at this badge, can’t wait to see them at the CON.


We’ll be looking for this and all other #Badgelife offerings at DEF CON 25. Join us for a Hackaday meetup on Sunday morning as we once again do Breakfast at DEF CON