Parallax Insider News

Propeller 1 on the DEFCON 22 Badges in Las Vegas!

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 06 August, 2014 0 comments

Two years ago we shared a steak dinner in Washington D.C. with DEFCON’s founder, Jeff Moss and his contest leader, Ryan Clarke. At that meeting we agreed to design and manufacture DEFCON 20’s badge. Jeff put tremendous trust in Parallax for this project, which simply raised our internal motivation to get it done correctly. The only problem we envisioned at the time was the schedule - we we would start in May and the conference was scheduled for August! We did the project successfully without a minute to spare - the truck pulled into the ‘CON while attendees were lining up!

Fast forward to early June, 2014 and we were again contacted by the DEFCON organizers about providing a Propeller-based badge for this year’s conference in Las Vegas. No time for a steak dinner this time. Our engineers and manufacturing people were already headed to DEFCON so they accepted this 60-day challenge with honor and enthusiasm. It would be another test of our Rocklin, California manufacturing team and another chance to showcase the Propeller.

Propeller coder Jon McPhalen (J0nnyMac) and DEFCON contest organizer Ryan Clarke (LosT) provided the concept for the badge based on DEFCON 22’s theme They Live, a 1988 science fiction film in which the ruling class are actually aliens who manipulate the status quote to spend money, breed and comply with mass media messages.

The badge’s primary purpose - aside from being the entry ticket to the conference - is to foster interaction among attendees and mark the start of a hacking contest involving cryptology, social engineering and programming. The badges are a required tool to participate in DEFCON’s largest contest. The badge design consists of a Propeller 1 circuit, infrared transmitter and receiver, touch-pad buttons and LEDs. A complete USB programming circuit and full-access to I/O pins, power and ground make this badge useful well after DEF CON.

We produced 13 styles of DEFCON 22 badges for Uber, Press, Vendor, Goon, and Human types of guests. A few creative winners take home an Uber badge and a free lifetime entry to DEFCON!

How did we accomplish this in 60 days?

Internally, Parallax relied on traditional face-to-face communication to achieve this goal. A Gannt chart wouldn’t guarantee the design, manufacturing and testing of 14,000 assembled printed circuit boards in 60 days if people didn’t know what to do with each minute and each hour. We traded all the management systems and planning tools for tight teamwork and a spreadsheet. This kind of style proved entirely appropriate for the demands: three days to design and submit files; Skype and phone meetings with all suppliers; placing PCBs on the solder paste stencil machine arrived our staff was applying solder paste and sending them down our pick-and-place surface mount line; test fixtures were ready before the boards; backup manufacturing and suppliers were in the queue; and a U-Haul truck was being loaded at Parallax while the last badges were being reworked by hand.

The real reward is seeing the Propeller in use at DEFCON 22’s Hardware Hacking Village!

We’ve packed our bags and left for Las Vegas, so we’ll report back after the conference. In the meantime we’ve posted a forum thread for more information about the badge.

- Ken Gracey