Teardown: Behind the ESC collector's badge

April 05, 2016 // By Richard Quinnell
In the lead up to this year's Embedded Systems Conference, Boston (April 13-14, 2016), a limited-edition, mesh-networked attendee badge will be available to one hundred or so attendees. This clever item comes from the same minds that created the networked CapNet propeller beanies a few years back, but with a twist. The badge was made to be hacked and its full design is available as open-source so those unable to get their hands on an original can replicate one.

At EDN we've dug into the design to give you insights into the design thinking behind the ESC 2016 Collectable Badge as well as a head start on building or modifying your own.


The high-level concept for the badge called for it to address several requirements. It needed to support business networking among badge wearers by using wireless networking to draw together those with similar interests. It also needed to provide an educational opportunity for wearers to learn more about mesh networking and embedded development. Finally, because all work and no play makes everything dull, it needed to provide opportunities for just plain fun. And, as always, cost was a consideration – especially as these were to be given away.


Initial design thinking

A preliminary design phase, including several e-mail design reviews, established much of the badge's functionality. The developers started out by exploring the badge format's potential for the project, analysing the designs of other electronic badges that have appeared at various trade shows. This investigation established the size parameters that would be tolerable for a badge-like device and revealed that weight was not a significant consideration. The research also suggested that the badge advertise a user's interests to other attendees to help support business networking.


The team wanted to perform this advertising in two ways. One was to use a visual display that would communicate wearer interests to everyone around. The other was the use of wireless mesh networking to communicate interests specifically to other badge wearers. The same networking technology as used in the earlier propeller beanie design – SNAP from Synapse Wireless – would be used in the badge design. This approach would provide both the wireless connectivity and a user-programmable application processor in a single package.

The nature of the visual display was a significant consideration, however. The display needed to be large enough to be read at a distance and dramatic