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Parallax Insider News

Electronic Conference Badge: Hackable microcontroller badge designed for real peer-to-peer interaction.

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 22 May, 2015 0 comments

Electronic Conference Badge

What makes a technical event memorable and product? Developing new friends and meeting those who share common interests! Parallax is about to build a product that makes these events even better - the first universal Electronic Conference Badge. With high-speed infrared communication and an organic light-emitting diode display (OLED), this badge could be used to show your name, the people you’ve met, your interests, and even the event’s agenda. Programming courses, hackathons and Makerspaces will find uses we didn’t envision.

We’re looking for your input before we start building prototypes.

Some of the technical features and purposes of the badge include:

  • Propeller Multicore P8X32A circuit with 64KB EEPROM is programmable in C, Spin/ASM, PropBASIC.
  • Two badge colors and silkscreen, for staff and guests. Badge may be further customized for specific events with a laser-cut engraved bezel that we’ll use to keep the OLED in place.  
  • 128x64 OLED 1” white display (SSD1306 chip on glass driver). Display your name, the conference program, or a bitmap graphic of your own design. Small and large fonts are displayed from text strings.
  • Infrared communication. Badges could exchange information about the wearer’s interests, showing what they have in common.
  • Dual-axis accelerometer. May be used for game development, alarms, pedometer, or robot sensor.
  • (4) Touch buttons and blue LEDs, and two tri-color LEDs.
  • Audio jack on back for sound effects and composite (TV) video output.
  • Single-cell AAA-sized 10440 3.7V 600 mAh lithium ion battery charges from USB.
  • (8) I/Os, power and ground ported to the edge for external circuits including servos, Ping))), PIR, or even a breadboard.

To date Parallax has fabricated over 35,000 units of different badges, with the highest volumes being for DEFCON. As a result of the DEFCON exposure we’ve had many inquiries from event planners, conference organizers, companies and Makerspaces who’d like to have their own badge. In addition to our conference goers, this badge is perfect for a first introduction to programming. 

Who’s on the team?

The Electronc Conference Badge is a close collaboration between Chicago’s Northwestern University (NU), Parallax, and our community (you). The badge will be launched on our forums as an Open Propeller Project.

Turning an idea into a product takes an enthusiastic and motivated team. We knew our team was complete in April when we met Dr. Brady from NU’s Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling (CCL).  Dr. Brady is part of the Learning Sciences group at NU, doing research on learning in the areas of complex systems, STEM education, physical computing, and computational thinking, both in classrooms and in informal settings. Brady and the CCL are planning a variety of uses of the badge as an interactive learning tool.  For example, they aim to work with Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry to build activities for learning about networks; they are designing "participatory simulations" where students engage in role-playing activities with the badges, and they also hope to test the badge with groups of students learning to program later this summer.

Parallax and Dr. Brady will submit a presentation for the Special Interest Group for Information Technology Education conference this September in Chicago. Our paper is entitled “It Turns Out We DO Need Some Stinkin’ Badges: Learning IT with Low-Cost, Communicative Wearable Computers”. Perhaps these IT conferences need a bit more fun too?

What do you think of the design?

The first pictures above show our concept and the schematic is available for download below. We’re interested in any feedback you want to provide. If you’re not comfortable posting below, feel free to drop me a message via e-mail (kgracey@parallax.com) or Twitter (@ParallaxKen).

We’ll be distributing a number of badges to the community for applications. The community has already produced many code examples we can build upon, like JonnyMac’s infrared objects, the 128x64 OLED display objects, and Chip’s video drivers. Personally, I’m looking forward to turning my first badge into a mini three-servo robotic bug.  

How “Open Source” is the Electronic Conference Badge?

More open than anything you’ve seen! Last summer at DEFCON 22 Parallax released the Propeller Multicore Verilog code under GPL 3.0. With this release you can modify the Verilog and make your own version, run it in an FPGA, fabricate your own Propeller 1 Multicore, and even make a product out of our Verilog code royalty-free. The badge PCB files will be available in DipTrace format. All Parallax code is marked with MIT license and our programming tools are 100% open for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

What will the badge cost?

The badge is intended for groups and events, and would be sold in 10-packs. Our target price is less than $50/ea in low volumes to 100 units, with hopes of $30/ea in the thousands. Talking about price is dangerous at this stage because we’re still finalizing our total Bill of Materials (BOM), labor, and manufacturing costs yet we all need to consider potential features with these numbers in mind. We’re building these badges right here in Rocklin, California - 100% Made in the USA by our team.  

When will the badge be available?

Prototypes are being ordered the last week of May with production planned for July. Our initial build quantities will be around a thousand units so we’ll have enough in stock for smaller events in the Fall. However, we’ll have an 8-week lead time for large events so I encourage early collaboration, especially for the coding and deployment.

Please share your thoughts as we consider ordering our first prototype!


Ken Gracey
Parallax Inc.