This Year’s EMF Camp Badge Is a Working Cell Phone!

This is #badgelife

Alasdair Allan
4 min readAug 27, 2018

The art of the hackable electronic badge started at DEFCON over a decade ago, but the last few years have seen the wearables spread to most of the major hacker conferences and camps. Of course each conference is frantically trying to out do the last, and things have become so competitive that this year badges are getting their own badges—along with a standard for badge add-ons, called the “Shitty Add-on Standard.” Because that’s DEFCON for you.

Conference badges have ranged from ones offering simple blinking lights, through to cryptographic puzzles, and even a miniature quadcopter. With badges at last year’s DEFCON 25 even having a common radio standard shared between the different groups producing them.

So the announcement around this year’s Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Camp badge has been hotly anticipated by the #badgelife community, and it hasn’t disappointed. Because this year’s EMF Camp badge is a functional cell phone.

The Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Camp 2018 electronic badge. (📷: EMF Camp)

The British EMF Camp has run every second year since 2012, and this year’s camp kicks off on Friday in the grounds of Eastnor Castle near Ledbury, a Herefordshire market town near the Welsh border.

What Is Electromagnetic Field? (Video credit: Electromagnetic Field)

A cross between a Maker Faire, DEFCON, and the Burning Man festival, EMF Camp is a uniquely British experience right down to the weather, although this year’s camp will come at the tail end of a record breaking heat wave here in the United Kingdom so attendees should may be spared the normal rain.

“…a temporary town of more than a two thousand like-minded people enjoying a long weekend of talks, performances, and workshops on everything from blacksmithing to biometrics, chiptunes to computer security, high altitude ballooning to lock picking, origami to democracy, and online privacy to knitting.”

The rear of this year’s EMF Camp badge, SIM slot visible on the left-hand side. (📷: EMF Camp)

There’s been a hackable badge at EMF every year, and the previous camp’s badge was the Python-powered WiFi-enabled TiLDA MK3. However the first hints that this year’s badge might be something special started leaking out earlier in the month with the announcement that there would be an on-site GSM network, with all the attendees getting free SIM cards from Hologram. But until today’s announcement nobody really knew the SIM could be used in this year’s badge.

“…we took inspiration from the old Nokia N-Gage — every single badge is a fully-functioning fully-hackable python-powered mobile phone! An on-board SIM800 GSM module allows you to make & receive calls, send text messages, and use data anywhere in the world. At camp it’s a fun toy, but when you leave it’s perfect for remote IoT connectivity.”

The free SIMs work with the badge and the on-site network for voice and SMS, but when attendees leave the camp they’ll also work as IoT data SIM cards anywhere in the world.

There isn’t any documentation for this year’s badge available. At least not quite yet, however if you’re heading to Camp you should keep an eye on the EMF Camp Wiki, because of course as usual there’s a badge competition to win.

“Electromagnetic Field is a volunteer-run community-powered festival where attendees are encouraged to contribute as well as consume content — they give talks, workshops, run villages, or build enormous flame throwing robots. Sometimes all four. While hacker & maker festivals are often computer & security focussed, we aim for diversity so that people are exposed to new ideas & topics alongside the ones they’re expecting to see.” — Jonty Wareing

Built around a Texas Instruments MSP432E4 SimpleLink microcontroller, an ARM Cortex-M4 running at 120MHz, the badge uses the TI CC3120 for Wi-Fi and the SIMCom SIM800 to provide quad-band GSM/GPRS and BLE support. It comes with a range of sensors including temperature, humidity, light, and magnetic field, and does of course support the DEFCON “Shitty Add-Ons” standard.

If you’re going to be at EMF Camp you should come and say “hello” as both Alex Glow and myself will be on site. Alex will be there all weekend and will be speaking and generally nerd-ing out, I’m going to be making a flying visit on Saturday before heading out to the States. So if you’re going to be there, or know someone that will be that we should be talking to and covering, tweet us or drop us an email. Or you could always call us on our new badge cell phone?