The Perils of Developing the Hackaday Superconference Badge

In case you haven’t heard, the best hardware conference in the world was last weekend. The Hackaday Superconference was three days of hardware hacking, soldering irons, and an epic hardware badge. Throw in two stages for talk, two workshop areas, the amazing hallwaycon and the best, most chill attendees you can imagine, and you have the ultimate hardware conference.

Already we’ve gone over the gory details of what this badge does, and now it’s time to talk about the perils of building large numbers of an electronic conference badge. This is the hardware demoscene, artisanal manufacturing, badgelife, and an exploration of exactly how far you can push a development schedule to get these badges out the door and into the hands of eager badge hackers and con attendees.

The good news is that we succeeded, and did so in time to put a completed badge in the hand of everyone who attended the conference (and we do have a few available if you didn’t make it to the con). Join me after the break to learn what it took to make it all happen and see the time lapse of the final kitting process.

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Get Your Hands on a 2017 Hackaday Superconference Badge

We just got the shipment of hot Hackaday Superconference badges in our hands yesterday, and they’re frankly awesome. Due to great manufacturing partners and a fantastic design by [Mike Harrison], we ended up with too few manufacturing defects and too many badges. How’s that for a nice problem to have?

But our gain is your gain! We have enough badges for everyone who’s coming to the con, and we’re selling the rest on Tindie.

In case you missed it, the badge is a digital video camera, or at least that’s how it’s going to start out its life. It’s got a camera sensor, enough processing power on-board to handle the image data, a screen, and SD card storage. It’s also got a good assortment of buttons, and more importantly, prototyping space and an abundance of pins broken out for you to play with. For the nitty-gritty, see the badge’s Hackaday.io project page. We’ve coded up the obvious applications, added in some challenging puzzles, and now we’re handing them off to you.

Hackaday Badge History

What will you do with them? That remains to be seen. The first time we put on a Supercon, we made the best badge you’ve ever seen — a blank protoboard, and a big pile of parts. Add in an enthusiastic and creative crowd, and out pops magic. Last year, [Voja] produced a badge with finesse and more resources, adding blinkies, IR, and an accelerometer, and we saw hacks making use of each of the features. This year, we’ve pushed it even further. Now it’s your turn.

The Superconference is this weekend, and a few hundred Hackaday hackers will get their hands on this lump of open hardware. Something fantastic is certainly going to happen. If you couldn’t make it but still want to play along, now’s your chance!

Conference badges are a fantastic playground for hardware hackers: they’re a small enough project to get done, but large enough to do something interesting. Some badges, like [Brian Benchoff]’s badge for Tindie, are minimalistic. Others, like this unofficial badge for DEFCON, are quadcopters. In between, there’s room for artistry and aesthetics and just plain cleverness. And don’t forget utility. The 2017 Layer One conference badge (here on Hackaday.io) is easily converted into an OBD II CAN bus sniffer or a video game machine — your pick.

Hackaday loves custom hardware and badges like this are more than just a PCB full of components. They’re a piece of the culture from the event where they made their debut. We’re happy we can share that with some of the hackers who couldn’t make it to Supercon this year.

Mike Harrison’s Reverse Engineering Workshop

Hardware teardowns are awesome when guided by experts. One of our favorites over the years has been [Mike Harrison], who has conquered teardowns of some incredibly rare and exquisitely engineered gear, sharing the adventure on his YouTube channel: mikeselectricstuff. Now he’s putting on a workshop to walk through some of the techniques he uses when looking at equipment for the first time.

[Mike] will be in Pasadena a few days early for the Hackaday Superconference and floated the idea of hosting a workshop. We ordered up some interesting gear which he hasn’t had a chance to look at yet. A dozen lucky workshop attendees will walk through the process [Mike] uses to explore the manufacturing and design choices — skills that will translate to examining any piece of unknown gear. He may even delve into the functionality of the equipment if time allows. Get your ticket right now!

To keep things interesting we’re not going to reveal the equipment until after the fact. But follow the event page where we’ll publish the details of his reverse engineering work after the workshop.

[Mike] is the badge designer for this year’s Hackaday Superconference badge. Unfortunately Supercon is completely sold out (we tried to warn you) but you can check out the badge details he already published. And we will be live streaming the Supercon this year — more details on that next week!

Amazing Analysis of a 350,000 LED Airport Art Project

Before you zip to the comments to scream “not a hack,” watch a few minutes of this teardown video. This 48 minute detailed walkthrough of a one-off art piece shows every aspect of the project: every requirement, design decision, implementation challenge, and mistake. Some notable details:

  • PCBs that are 1 meter wide (all one piece!)
  • 350,000 white LEDs
  • Carbon fiber enclosures
  • 1-wire serial bus (like the WS2812 only not quite) with 12 bit resolution (TLC5973)
  • Customized cable test jigs, PCB test jigs, and test modes
  • An exploration on ESD issues in production

It’s not often that one sees teardowns of professional projects like this, and there’s quite a bit to learn from in here, besides it being a beautiful piece of art. See more about the Caviar House “Emergence” project at the Heathrow Airport, along with stunning pictures and video of the display in action.

If you’re thinking about how you’d control 350,000 individual LEDs with 12 bit grayscale and have it look smooth, check out the processor requirements behind the megascroller, which only handles 98,000 LEDs. More recently, we asked how many LEDs are too many, and the answer was quite a bit lower than 350k.

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Mike Harrison Exposes Hot Oil and High Voltage of Ancient Live Projector

It’s amazing how quickly a technological pivot will erase the existence of what was previously a modern marvel. A great example of this is the live video projection technology known as the Eidophor. In the beginning there was film, and if you shined a light through it followed by a set of lenses you could project an image for all to enjoy. But what if you didn’t want to wait for film to be developed? What if you wanted to project live video, or real-time data for a room full of people who could not be served by even the biggest of the cathode-ray tubes of the time? This question led to the development of the Eidophor whose story has been all but lost.

Mike Harrison is trying to revive the details of this amazing engineering feat and presented his findings during his talk at the Hackaday | Belgrade conference. Mike is interested in technology that is “impractical, ridiculous, absurd, or stupidly expensive” and the Eidophor certainly ticks all of those boxes. Check it out below and join us after the break where we’ll touch on the myriad challenges of developing projection technology based on hot oil and high voltage.

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