A New Post-Conference Life for This Year’s Open Hardware Summit Badge

This is #badgelife

Alasdair Allan
3 min readOct 23, 2018

At the tail end of last month, Hackster was out in force at this year’s Open Hardware Summit in Cambridge, MA, and Adam, Artie, Alex, and myself each received a shiny electronic badge for our troubles. But with the art of the hackable electronic badge now ten years old, and the badges evolving from simple blinky LEDs to fully working cellphones, it’s important to make sure that the badges live on after the conference.

The Open Hardware Summit electronic badge. (📷: Alasdair Allan)

This year’s Open Hardware Summit badge was designed by Alex Camilo and was based the ESP trINKet by Mike Rankin. It was built around the ESP32-WROOM-32 module, with both Wi-Fi and BLE capabilities, running a MicroPython firmware providing a Python interpreter prompt (REPL) on the serial port which enables interactive programming of the badge. It has a 2.13-inch e-paper display with a 250 × 122 pixel resolution, an I2C accelerometer, and support for add-ons via the “Shitty Add-on Standard.”

Launched at the start of the conference was version 2.0 of the open source hardware certification program, with the badge itself being open hardware certified.

The conference badge was OSHW certified. (📷: Alasdair Allan)

“Launched in 2016, the original certification program has been a success. We have certified over 200 pieces of hardware from 27 countries on 5 continents… [and] version 2 of the certification site uses specific examples from the community to illustrate best practices and licensing decisions for creators of open source hardware.”

Connecting to the badge’s serial port to access the REPL can be done with any FTDI cable. However at the conference, programming and provisioning the badge for each attendee was done with a custom programming jig. Housed in a 3D-printed box, with a laser-cut top to hold the badge in place, the jig was built around a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a touchscreen display allowing the organisers to upload firmware to 300 badges as people checked into the conference.

The jig was essential since every badge needed to be pre-loaded with a the attendee’s name, which meant that every badge had a custom firmware loaded on to it.

But if you wanted to give fresh life to the badge after the conference, not just play around with the REPL, you probably want to start by hacking on the badge’s firmware. Which is where the post-conference project to build an adapter board for a USB-to-serial cable comes in handy.

“…[the board allows you to] connect an FTDI 3.3V USB to serial cable to the J1 header on the badge. In addition to the serial console, this adapter board for the J1 header enable new MicroPython firmware to be flashed on to the badge.”

It also means that the powerful electronic badge can have a life after the conference, and not turn into just another piece of electronic waste that needs disposal. Or something that sits on a shelf doing nothing—too valuable to throw away, too hard to hack on to get taken off the shelf for a project.

If you were lucky enough to be at this year’s Open Hardware Summit and got your hands on one, the official documentation for the badge is online, along with the design for the USB-to-serial adaptor board. While more details for the badge itself can be found on the Hackaday.io project page.