Supercon Badge Hardware Hacking: Here’s What to Bring

Hackaday Superconference is just a week away (precious few tickets remain), a celebration of all things Hackaday, which naturally includes creative projects making the most of their hardware. Every attendee gets a platform for hacking in the form of the conference badge.

To make the most of your badge hacking fun, plan ahead so you will have the extra components and the tools you need. At the most basic, bring along a serial to USB cable and a PIC programmer. These are common and if you don’t own them, ask around and you will likely be able to borrow them. Now is also the time to put in a parts order for any components you want to use but don’t have on hand!

The badge is hackable without any extras, but it’s designed for adding hardware and hacking the firmware. We’re excited to see what you can do with it. We gave an overview of this retro themed pocket computer a few days ago, today we’re inviting you to exploit its potential for your hardware hacks.

Expansion Header, Board, and Custom Firmware

With a full keyboard, LCD screen, audio speaker, and a BASIC programming environment on board, the badge will be a friendly on-ramp for curious beginners attending Supercon. And for our hardware hacking veterans, there’s a header for an expansion board: a gateway to endless possibilities. Serial communication is a good starting point to familiarize with badge expansion, and you should bring your own USB-to-serial adapter to follow our badge serial communications guide.

When you’re ready to venture beyond talking to your computer over a serial link, each badge also comes with this expansion board. It plugs into the badge and brings out all the pins for through-hole soldering plus some common surface-mount footprints (0805, SO-8, SO-16, TSSOP-16, SOT-23). And last but not least, it has three Shitty Add-On headers. Our badge hardware hacking reference guide will continue growing up to (and through) Supercon to help answer your questions.

The expansion pins can be controlled from badge BASIC. But if BASIC should prove limiting, the badge is ready for that, too. The heart of the badge is a PIC32-series processor donated by (along with the Flash chips) by Microchip The expansion header brings out all the pins necessary for in-circuit programming with a PIC programming tool. Microchip’s PICkit (3 or 4) are popular choices, but there are other options out there. And finally, a computer with the firmware development tools installed. Our C programming guide lists the required downloads and steps to install them.

The image above shows a red circuit board as this is one of the five prototypes. We’re using Macrofab as the contract manufacturer for this project (they graciously donated a portion of the assembly cost) and we just received word that the full production run of 500 badges with black solder mask has completed!

What Will You Make?

As fitting for the retro computing theme, most badge features in the default firmware (like Z80 emulation) are text-based. But the badge screen is not restricted to text! We’d love to see what can be done with its graphics capabilities. Maybe even in sync with music playing from the speaker?

Simple circuit: 595 shift register and eight LEDs

Another exciting frontier are multi-badge hacks. It is straightforward to connect two badges to each other over serial, so two-player BASIC gaming is begging to be written as soon as you turn on the badge. But how much further can this idea go? The serial pins can be employed to bridge to all sorts of wireless communications modules. Or perhaps we’ll witness a multi-badge serial protocol for a wired badge LAN?

And while we’ve got the serial port all set up and ready to go for everyone, with some additional work the PIC32 can also communicate over I2C or SPI opening up access to a huge range of electronics peripherals. Will someone attach a camera module to one-up last year’s camera badge? Add motor/servo controllers for badge-brained robots? The only limits are imagination, time, and 3 volt power from the pair of AA batteries.

Be Prepared, Adventure Awaits

So pack your USB serial adapter, your PICkit, and join us at Supercon! Badge pickup and work area opens Friday morning (November 2nd) at 9AM. While we will provide some components and of course basic tools like soldering irons, there will be a ton of people in line to use them. It’s best to bring whatever tools you can pack with you to best help realize your vision. During Sunday evening’s closing ceremony, you’re invited to show the entire conference what you’ve built.

Keep an eye on the badge project page for updates to reference material and join the chat rooms (there’s one for Supercon in general, and one specific to the badge) to connect with similar-minded hackers. You all have great ideas, let’s see them happen. It’s going to be a great adventure!

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