For the first two years of RVAsec, our friends at hack.rva have come up with two awesomely interactive badges for attendees. Planning for the 2014 badge started right after the 2013 conference, and since June is coming quickly we caught up with Morgan Stuart to get some info on what they are planning.

The 2013 badges were a huge hit–can you tell us a little about them?

2013 RVAsec Badges

2013 RVAsec Badges

Morgan: Last year’s design focused on a large feature set. The badge included 8 LEDs, infrared transmitter and receiver, piezo buzzer, 3D printed button, and it even had USB support. This meant that these badges could talk back and forth to each other wirelessly, you could tap, turn, and shake for input, and you could plug it up to your laptop and compose some tunes with your keyboard. The “game” on the badge consisted of seven stages, where we progressively introduced a new feature of the badge in some puzzle. By the second day, we had many people’s badges partaking in the “game of death.” Your badged counted down your health with the LEDs (in base 2 of course), forcing you to scavenge for food. HackRVA’s table had a beacon on it that would occasionally emit some “food” over IR, but most importantly you could attack other players. When a player died, they’re respawn downtime included about a minute of transmitting food to nearby players. Eventually we introduced a patient zero for “zombie mutation” (thanks Ron) and things got pretty crazy.

The badges did get a little annoying making noise the whole time. What were some thing that you learned from last year?

Morgan: There was a lot we took away from last year’s experience. Most important is getting the manufacturing of these devices down tight. We ran into a lot of unforeseen problems that we are trying to avoid by starting early with refined processes. Still, there are plenty of areas that could use improvement. For instance, the past few weeks we’ve been working out a photo etching method. It still needs work, but it will remove a lot of difficult-to-control variables that last year’s toner-transfer method had. There was also quite a bit of difficulty getting the accelerometer soldered on the board correctly, this lead to about half the badges not having an accelerometer, which was a big let down for everyone. We’re avoiding these kinds of small and sensitive components this year.

The design’s other biggest limitation was the restricted user I/O; we don’t think a button and accelerometer were enough input and the 8 LEDs with piezo could only say so much. We want interfacing with the badge to be enjoyable and intuitive, not frustrating or complex.

Due to the issues manufacturing last year, much of our focus was put on getting our hardware numbers up late in the build. The badges we ended up with had a great hardware feature set, but we just didn’t quite have the time we needed to fully exploit them with the software. HackRVA’s space has grown a lot in the last year, and we have some new and very responsible members who can help lift some of the weight off our shoulders when it comes to managing the fabrication of all this year’s boards. This means more time for software.

The good news about last year’s badge was that a lot things worked very well. Our design of the software and hardware was really founded on getting the attendees to interact with one another and we felt it did that in a big way. The badge became a great avenue to spark up a conversation or just geek-out with someone. Oh, and we’ll be sure to have a way to turn the sound off this year.

What are the plans for the badges this year?

Morgan: I first want to say that this year’s badge has again been redesigned from the “copper up,” but it’s undoubtedly the successor to last year’s badge. The badge games will again focus on getting the attendees to interact and think. Using them will be a whole lot of fun.

If someone wanted to hack or modify them, what will they need to do?

Morgan: Last year you needed a PicKit to modify the firmware–this is a piece of hardware that can cost as much as $30 or $40 for older versions. This year, we are aggressively pursuing a boot loader option which means you’ll simply need a USB cable and some free (as in beer) software to hack away.

Can you give attendees any other hints or teasers about the badges?

Morgan: One of the earliest changes we had in mind has really forced us to rethink the design and placement of every component. I won’t say much else other than we think lanyards are pretty lame…

Anything else?

Morgan: We would like to thank everyone at RVAsec, including Jake and Chris, for letting us do this these past few years. It’s challenging, but a whole lot of fun.

Thanks Morgan, we look forward to seeing this year’s badges!

If you are interested in helping out hack.rva with the badges, software or hardware, they have Thursday night open houses. More information can be found at