What Actually Happens At A Hardware Hacking Con


The Hackaday Superconference was last weekend, and it was the greatest hardware con on the planet. What can you build out of a conference badge? If you answered “a resin-based 3D printer” you would have won a prize. If you decided to put your badge in a conference water bottle and make a stun gun you’d receive adoration of all in attendance. Yeah, it got that crazy.

Yes, there’s a Supercon badge in that bottle and it’s now a stun gun.

At other tech conferences, you’ll find gaggles of nerds sitting around a table with MacBooks and Thinkpads. The Superconference is different. Here, you’ll find soldering irons, tackle boxes filled with components, and loose WS2812s scattered about the floor. The smell of solder flux wafts through the air. You detect a hint of ozone.

The depth and breadth of hacks that came out of this were simply stunning. We a binocular virtual reality hack, an internet trolling badge, blinky add-on boards, audio add-on boards, a film festival was shot on the badge, and much more which you’ll find below.

We have started a Badge Hacks list and want to see details of all of the hacks. So if you were at Supercon be sure to publish them on Hackaday.io and send a DM to be added to the list.

Starting Up An Extra Day of Hacking

To get all of this creativity rolling we did something a bit different for this year’s Superconference. Instead of opening the doors up on Saturday morning, we set up a badge hacking area and party on Friday afternoon. The drinks flowed like the meniscus on a properly soldered lead, and by 2pm on Friday, everyone was hacking firmware on the incredible camera badge for this year’s con.

We didn’t stop on Friday. The Superconference is a hardware hacking conference, and that meant we brought out the soldering irons, experimented with melting aluminum with gallium, reflowed a few boards, and created a few deadbug LED cubes. This went on all weekend.

This is, without a doubt, the greatest hardware hacking conference on the planet. Other hacking conferences get their reputation from the incredible talks and the hallway con where you can simply walk up to leading experts in whatever field you’re interested in. The Hackaday Superconference has that and so much more. There were attendees who dedicated their entire weekend to sitting at a folding table with a few soldering irons and wire cutters. This was their entire Supercon experience, and it was amazing.

A Transformer In A Tent

The back alley behind the Supplyframe Design Lab has a long and storied history of high voltage hacks. A year or so ago, the alley saw an Electric Pickle. The basic idea of this is to take a welder, stick a pickle between the electrodes, and let ‘er rip. First, the pickle turns into a sodium lamp with a beautiful orange glow. Once enough carbon builds up, this sodium lamp turns into a carbon arc lamp that bathes the retinas of everyone watching in ultraviolet light. It’s glorious.

A Tindie head, after surviving 12,000 VAC @ 30mA. It still works.

This year we didn’t have a welder, but we did have the next best thing: a transformer that outputs 12,000 VAC. This was brought in for [Will Caruna]’s workshop, Fun With High Voltage, where Supercon attendees made Lichtenberg figures on pieces of wood. This transformer was later repurposed for burning Lichtenberg figures into everything.

The most interesting thing electrified? The Tindie Blinky Badge included in every Supercon swag bag. These Tindie heads stood up to 12,000 VAC, didn’t burn, didn’t explode, and worked afterward. There are a few opinions on how these were able to survive — I’m saying it’s because there are no traces on the board, and all the electrical connections are ground planes. Others are saying it’s because of the magical electronics embedded in the self-blinking LEDs. Nobody can provide a good answer as to why the Tindie badges are so resilient, which means we’ll just have to try harder at the next Supercon.

Also on deck for the High Voltage hacks was [Sarah Petkus] and her innovative stun gun water bottle. All Supercon attendees received a water bottle in their swag bag, and [Sarah] turned hers into a stun gun. It should be noted that this is not a Tazer, because every time we put the word ‘Tazer’ on the site, Tazer International sends us a cease and desist, except for that one time when a Hackaday editor was Tazed at CES.

Of course, not everyone was on the hardware hacking bandwagon just for the fun of it. This was a badge hacking competition, with fantastic prizes awarded for the best hacks on our conference badge. How did that go down? Check out the badge hacking award ceremony below.