The Supercon Badge is a Freakin’ Computer


It hangs around your neck, comes with the cost of admission, and would blow away a desktop computer from the 1980’s. This is the Hackaday Superconference badge and you can get your hands on one for the price of admission to the ultimate hardware conference.

Everyone through the door gets one of these badges featuring a 320 x 240 color display, a full qwerty keyboard, and limitless hacking potential! The stock firmware runs a BASIC interpreter, the CP/M operating system, and includes games and Easter Eggs. It’s a giant playground, and we want to see what you can do with this custom hardware during the three days of Supercon. Get your ticket now, then join me after the break for a demo video and plenty more info.

This badge design by Voja Antonic was premiered at the Hackaday Belgrade conference in May and is seeing an encore performance for Supercon. It looks amazing, but what you don’t realize until you have it in your hands is how much fun it is to hammer out some BASIC code on the incredibly clicky keyboard. Check out this fun figure: we ordered over 30,000 momentary switches for the assembly of these badges!

Hardware Design and Hacking

The display on the badge is superb and provides plenty of room for highly readable text. Of course it’s full-color and begging for some great visualizations — demoscene anyone? The badge is being assembled by Macrofab, who have also donated a portion of the assembly cost. They use red PCBs for prototypes — you’re looking at #1 of 5 — but the final solder mask will be black. In the upper right you can see the white component with is an RGB LED controllable from inside the BASIC interpreter.

The hard work is happening on the back side of the badge. A PIC32MX370 microcontroller drives everything, with an SST26VF016BT flash chip for an additional 16 MB of storage — both of these chips were graciously donated for this project by Microchip.

Also on board is a speaker and amplifier circuit. That’s right, this badge plays music! You can code in BASIC or in C for three-voice audio.

New for Supercon is the hardware hacking breakout board. This attaches to the breakout header on the top of the badge and includes a hole for a bolt and nut. Shown here is the protoype, the final version will be black, and includes three footprints for “shitty add-ons“(SAO). If you want to make your own SAO to bring to Supercon, here’s the design spec.

The expansion header includes four GPIO pins that can be controlled from the BASIC Interpreter. There are pins for I2C and UART serial broken out. The header is also used to program the badge. If you have a PICKIT, please bring it along to Supercon. You should also bring a USB to serial cable if you have one. (Not like you were going to leave home without it, right?)

We saw all kinds of things connected to this header at Hackaday Belgrade. Before lunch there was a badge up on the WiFi network which you could log into and draw on the screen from your phone’s browser. There were badges communicating via long-range radio dongles. This  year we hope to see communications hacks and a lot of bling!

Firmware Hacking

The firmware is designed by Jaromir Sukuba and is still in progress for this year. He began with an existing tokenizer and fleshed out the core functionality before adding in hardware-specific functionality: playing music, controling the LED, controling GPIO, writing to the screen, PEEKing and POKEing RAM locations, and more. He also added the CP/M operating system and configured the flash chip to serve as disk space for it.

We suggest you begin thinking about hacks involving:

  • The BASIC language
  • Music (look for or arrange tracks that use up to 3 voices)
  • Writing code (or locating existing programs) for CP/M
  • Driving your external hardware hacks using GPIO, I2C, or serial

The most delightful badge hack we saw at the Belgrade conference in May was a two-badge game called “Shoot My Valentine“. Each player had a little ship pointed towards the other badge, when that badge fired the lasers, you saw them travel up off the top of the screen and appear on the other player’s badge. This is the sort of awesome creativity we hope to see this year. Can anyone come up with a 4-player game?

Don’t Miss Out!

Supercon will sell out and the only way you can guarantee you’ll get one of these badges is to grab a ticket and show up at the Hackaday Superconference! See you in November.



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