DEFCON 22 Conference Badge

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What is the Defcon Badge?

An electronic puzzle for attendees could win lifetime admittance with the Uber badge

Parallax made two DEFCON badges (22 and 24). This is a dialog of our DEFCON 22 badge, made under the direction of DEFCON’s founder, Jeff Moss and his contest leader, Ryan Clarke. The challenge with this Propeller 1 application was schedule – we would start the design 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!

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 DEFCON.

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!

Video: In Action

This was accomplished within 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!


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Watching that pick and place machine in action NEVER gets old. So cool!

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