If 2020 is a transformative year, it would be an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way we work, study and live. Although there are many jokes about the time people spend on their devices instead of interacting face-to-face with other people, it turns out that when you can’t get several people together in the same room, it can throw our entire society into chaos.
Our community has to rethink how we gather. Major events like HOPE, DEF CON and even our own Hackaday Supercon must be quickly converted into virtual events. These events try to capture hundreds of hackers with varying degrees of success. The experience meets in real life. Although few people will argue that virtual hacking conferences can truly replace physical hacking conferences, we understand that there are undeniable benefits to embracing the advantages provided by cyberspace. If nothing else, the 2020 virtual hacker gathering will see more and more diverse participants and presenters than ever before.
When we begin to see the first rays of light at the end of the long and dark tunnel we have fallen into, it is clear that some of the changes that COVID-19 has imposed on our communities will continue to exist. Although we are all eager to go back to the epic hacking festival of the past, no one wants to close the door to those who cannot attend in person now, because they can already peek behind the scenes.
With this in mind, This year’s DEF CON will be presented in both physical and virtual forms. If you go to Las Vegas, that would be great. If not, you can continue to browse chat rooms and video streams from the comfort of your home. Following the theme, the DC29 badge is not only a practical tool for virtual participants, but also an electronic puzzle that can bring some of them together. Let’s take a closer look at this badge of keeping a distance from society and the technology to enter it.
The DC29 badge itself is a four-button RGB mechanical macro pad, which can be connected to your computer via USB-C. The out-of-the-box buttons are configured to work with Discord, allowing you to perform operations such as muting the microphone and making some appreciative expressions. Along the right side of the device are three touchpads, which are configured to act as volume sliders, completing the array of available media controls nicely.
The badge is enumerated as a serial device, if you connect to it with a terminal emulator, you will see a simple user interface that not only can reconfigure the function of each of the four keys, but also their respective RGB Color value. The touchpad on the side cannot be configured through this UI at present, but you will be notified when you connect for the first time. This is only a minimal firmware implementation; a more complete version is planned to be released during DC29.
Speaking of which, install firmware updates in a method familiar to anyone using MicroPython. Pressing the lower right button while inserting the badge will make it appear as a USB mass storage device containing UF2 format firmware, providing a user-friendly and cross-platform way to run new codes on the badge. The virtual drive also contains an HTML file, but at least for now, it just points you to the DEF CON site.
Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts will be happy to learn that the four Gateron Blues of the badge are installed in hot-swappable sockets, if you want to customize the touch of the board with a new set of switches. Each key comes with a customized DEF CON legendary keycap, allowing you to insert your own printed artwork. The caps appear to be resin 3D printed, and considering the fairly obvious changes in color, clarity, and quality, even with only four sample sizes, it can be seen that their production seems to be the result of collaborative efforts.
Between configurable software, hot-swappable switches, and customizable keycaps, the DC29 badge is a very sturdy little macro pad. It is safe to say that long after this year’s scam ended, many people still use this badge every day.
Under the hood
The two layers of the badge were fixed together with four plastic nails, and when they were pulled together, the interior was surprisingly barren. In fact, the only component that is really worth mentioning is the Atmel ATSAMD21, which is a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0+ microcontroller. The 48 MHz chip includes 256 KB flash memory, 32 KB SRAM, capacitive peripheral touch controller (PTC) and integrated USB controller.
Outside the MCU, there is only a buzzer, probably a voltage regulator, and some passive components. There are no obvious sensors or radios, but the physical connector array on each side of the badge does hint that there are still some tricks to be revealed.
play with friends
The DC29 badge itself is very useful, in fact, it can be said to be the most practical event badge ever. But as the edge connector and silkscreen message suggest, it can also be combined with other badges. Multiple badges can be stuck together or connected to each other via a USB cable, and because of the onboard CR2032 battery, they do not need to be connected to the computer for power supply.
As for what they will do when they connect… well, we will have to wait a while to find out. On the one hand, it is not clear that the current firmware even supports linking badges together. Although it is not an exhaustive investigation, searching the ASCII string in the firmware did not find any messages related to any function other than being used as a macro pad.
Those who attend DEF CON in person may find that they need to perform a firmware update before their badges can really do anything interesting when connected to each other, but anyway, please give it a try and let us know.
New era badge
The rise of Badgelife has always been driven by hackers’ desire to show off their gleaming handmade electronics. But what happens if there are no crowded conference halls for you to wander around? When you participate in a scam in your bedroom, the glittering neck of the PCB does not have exactly the same appeal. How do you make the badge stand out for someone who may never reach another holder within a hundred kilometers?
It is not easy to create a device that combines the traditional form and function of the DEF CON badge with the social distancing nature of virtual meetings, but the DC29 badge undoubtedly succeeded in achieving this goal. As a unit, it is a useful and customizable gadget, and if used extensively, it can be used as part of an interactive puzzle. As hacker conferences continue to blur the line between physical and virtual attendance in the coming years, this design will inevitably become the standard for measuring future badges.
Regardless of whether most of the DC29 badges have the opportunity to establish contact with other similar badges, one thing is certain: every badge will become the precious property of any hacker who can get the badge.