microcontroller badges

The Next Hope

Freescale ColdFire
Flexis JM Badge Board

The Renesas M16C
Platform Evaluation Kit

Parallax Propeller badges

Freescale Kinetis KwikStik

other noteworthy badges

Badge sized prototype/evaluation kits are a recent way for chip venders to get folks playing with their chips.
They appeal to everyone from hobbyist to engineers evaluating a new chip technology.

Most have demo programs pre-loaded into the flash ROM. Some are battery powered, ready to enjoy.
That's the "OOBE: Out Of Box Experience". The instant gratification of seeing it work right away.
The main hurdle is the learning curve to start using it for your application,
particularly if you're new to the microcontroller's architecture, development tools and language.

Despite the "Intel Inside" campaign and AMD alternative,
the embedded processor is a "hidden market" that is extremely active with many competing processors and company consortiums.
Popular RISC cores such as ARM or RISC-V are licensed to many mfgrs such as Freescale, TI, Marvell and Broadcom.
Despite that, there is still a diversity of embedded processor architectures:

A Quick History of Active Badges

I first learned about active badges and location aware wearable computers at NJIT
in Dr. Quentin Jones' grad level course Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp, also called Pervasive Computing).

The "Active Badge System" was first prototyped around 1989.
Infra-red emitting ID badges enabled location-aware services such as "follow me" services, finding co-workers in real time and other collaborations.
Hacker conventions keep rediscovering active badges to engage participation and explore new applications.

Active Badge System articles are here (AT&T) and here (Linux Journal).
The foundation document is the ACM paper The Active Badge Location System
by Olivetti Research Ltd. (ORL), England: Roy Want, Andy Hopper, Veronica Falcão, Jonathan Gibbons.

citing David Greaves Olivetti Research Active Badge
This is my active badge. I wore a badge like this for quite a number of years in the late 80's and early 90's.
This is the last one I was issued with. They were designed originally by Roy Want of Olivetti Research.
The badge operates only in specially-wired buildings, where each room and door has an infra-red transceiver to communicate with the badge.
The badge was used to unlock the buildings where I worked and to give out my location.
In early days, the unix finger protocol was augmented to give out badge locations, but later the WWW was used.
Badge sightings were also used to index multi-media recordings.
To a large extent, people stopped wearing their badges in the office environment once they had a mobile phone.

The Next Hope

The 8th HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) Conference
was held July 16-18, 2010 at New York's Hotel Pennsylvania.

Despite the name, the 2nd floor was full of folks buying and soldering up Arduino Kits (wiki)
sold on-site by NY/NJ/CT hacker spaces. There is quite an Arduino community.

The 2010 HOPE RFID badge was designed by Travis Goodspeed (blogspot).
See also: all his photo sets.
He also collected several Evaluation Kits

Many folks received these RFID badges and modified the programming and hardware.
The RFID badge was silk-screened to double as a human readable event badge!
The unpopulated PC board was used for the remainder of the attendees.
The main chip is a TI MSP430: X430F2618T rev F
Click here for a zip file of all the presentations from a (NON-HOPE) TI all-day seminar
including MSP430; Zigbee, RFID and wireless tutorials
The TI MSP430 LaunchPad is my other MSP430 system.
The rear showing the battery holder.
Folks were advised to remove the battery if they didn't want to be tracked in real time.
The missing FTDI FT232RL chip and USB connector were sold separately
for programming the TI MSP430 via USB for those without JTAG adapters.
It's the same form factor as Scho-Ka-Cola chocolate! (English wiki)
I put it in the tin for RF shielding!
I wore my Billie D. Husky badge holder with the HOPE badge
and the Freescale badge scrolling the message "NOT RFID!".
A few folks already have the Freescale badge and others were intrigued
by how much was included in the base product compared to a bare Arduino.

Parallax Propeller badges

The Parallax P8X32A Propeller is a unique architecture:
eight symmetrical cores ("cogs") sharing a central bus (wikipedia)

Nick Lordi is a major supporter of the Parallax Propeller and FORTH for robotics.
He kindly gave me his Parallax Propeller badge from DEFCON 20 (July 2012)
starring Anubis!
Just add connectors for VGA and PS2 (kybd & mouse) to make it a complete system!

Developer & tech info is here
Radio Shack sold the P8X32A Propeller QuickStart
(same chip but with 40-pin Accessory Socket).
Propeller QuickStart Guide
Parallax Electronic Conference Badge:
Hackable microcontroller badge designed for real peer-to-peer interaction.
Badges were on sale for $29.99 in three varieties: Guest (blue) Staff (white) Speaker (black).
They have been replaced by the $50 Badge WX for BlocklyProp

I like the OLED and the way the back clearly documents
the TRRS connector, URLs and all connections.

  • Propeller P8X32A 8-core microcontroller, 64 KB EEPROM and 5 MHz crystal oscillator
  • 128 x 64 OLED display
  • Two super-bright, tri-color RGB LEDs under the OLED
  • Six passive touch-buttons with status LEDs, plus 1 special OSHW logo touch-button
  • 3-axis accelerometer (1.5 g) for orientation and motion detection
  • Two-way infrared communication
  • USB port for programming and charging
  • On-board battery charger, management, and charging disable functions
  • 3.6 V Li-ion battery included
  • Stereo audio and composite video out
  • Two mini prototyping areas, with access to I2C, 11 I/O's, 3.3V, 5V-USB and battery voltage
Other Propeller based devices:

Vince Briel's PockeTerm uses the Parallax Propeller chip as a serial terminal
(just add VGA monitor, PS/2 keyboard).
hack-a-day reviewed it

Freescale ColdFire
JMBADGE: Flexis JM Badge Board

2008: The Freescale "Can Your Badge Do This" contest featured the Flexis JM Badge Board.

The ColdFire microprocessor is derived from the Motorola 68000 family architecture.
It's not identical to the 68000 but very similar.

The front shows the
  • 5x16 LED array
  • 8 touch pads
  • 60 pin expansion connector
The rear shows

Citing the (now dead) Freescale web site
It's amazing what you can do when you embed a MCF51JM128 ColdFire USB MCU, a MMA7260QT 3-axis accelerometer, a MC34673 Li-ion battery charger IC, a MPR084 capacitive touch sensor along with an LED screen into an event ID badge. Add a little ingenuity and programming, and you can have a multifunctional badge - even a toy.

The Flexis JM Badge Board doubles as an event badge for the Freescale Technology Forums around the world and provides design engineers with a low cost development board to develop a unique application.

REALITY CHECK: abandoned

  1. The web site for the Can Your Badge Do This contest is dead.
    Why abandon the web site when the contest entries are still interesting, useful and would help kickstart others with using it?
  2. At the 2011 ARM seminars, the Freescale sales force was so busy pushing their ARM processors that they didn't even want to talk about the ColdFire processors.
  3. Nobody stocks it. Cannot be purchased.
    Is you have any, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! jeffj/at/panix/dot/com
    I wanted to do a 68k assembler course with them at the Vintage Computer Festival.

Freescale Kinetis KwikStik

September 2011: Arrow Electronics' Parsippany NJ office hosted Freescale's seminar demonstrating the Freescale Kinetis-line of ARM core microcontrollers interfaced to Linear Technology's external A/D converters. Everyone attending got a rev 5 Kinetis KwikStik, pre-loaded with several demos.
The demo kit was designed by Pounce Embedded Systems (PES), a division of Pounce Consulting
The compilers and development software are by even more third party venders, so everyone has a piece of the pie.

The bare board and in the silicone case
The 40X256 microcontroller is on the back
the box is similar to the Coldfire JM Badge Board

The Kinetis KwikStik is an all-in-one development tool for evaluating, developing and debugging Kinetis MCUs.
It works by itself or plugs into the Freescale Tower to work with other I/O cards.
[Warning: the edge connector only LOOKS like PCI. It's not!]

Kinetis is the Freescale family of ARM Cortex-M4 Microcontrollers, varying from the minimal K10 to the fully loaded K70.
This kit uses the Freescale Kinetis K40x256 microcontroller: built into the KwikStik: Here's a Freescale video of the KwikStik

Here's the PowerPoint Presentation mostly about the higher-end Freescale K50 chip
on their tower development kit with the Linear Technology "analog playground" tower board
full of A/D, D/A converters. (also available in zip format).

REALITY CHECK: it fails the Out of Box Experience

  1. Rev 1 thru 4 had fatal flaws such as a miswired microSD slot
  2. This review KwikStik? KwikStuk! confirms my problems using the touch switches,
    and the maze of software installs required to make any progress.
  3. dangerousprototypes.com tried one in April 2011


The Renesas M16C Platform Evaluation Kit
It requires the USB programmer-dongle for power but demo programs are preloaded into flash
that displays the temperature (from the on-board sensor) and trimpot setting on the 2 line 8 character LCD.
It's a very worthy CPU in there!

Despite it being an "oddball" processor compared to everything else I have,
it got my attention for a gcc toolchain and embedded Linux.
That may be moot if I can't use the now obsolete RTA-FoUSB-MON Flash Programmer & In-Circuit Debugger

This is kind of an electronic fruitcake: Bob Grieb gave it to me, someone else gave it to him!

A friend who enjoys using Renesas processors says:
Yeah, m16c was quickly replaced by the r8c (smaller) and rx (faster) families.
However, any chip in those families can be reprogrammed with Linux and a serial port

You can program it with 100% OSS (I did the gcc port myself)
but the chip just isn't as efficient as the newer families.
The R8C has the same ISA but is cheaper and smaller (ideal for tiny embedded projects)
and the RX family is faster and cheaper than the M16C,
which makes it preferred for any larger project.

I learned about them while doing the gcc port (contract) and grew to like them.
The peripherals are easy to understand and the ISA is fairly straightforward.
Add the easy programming interface and 100% OSS tooling,
+5vdc support, speed, and robustness... it was an easy choice.
for Renesas support, see
  • Renesas Engineering Community
  • The Renesas Engineering Community, formerly RenesasRulz, is a great resource to get online technical support on our popular product lines

    Pix of the kits together

    The Renesas and Freescale badge kits in the packaging
    Renesas on the left (LCD module)
    Freescale to the right (LED array)
    Renesas on the left (with programming/debug module)
    Freescale to the right (all access via USB)

    Other Microcontroller Badge/Cards

    I don't have these but they sure look interesting!

    Lee A. Hart makes many retro projects such as
    The Elf 2000 (a Cosmac Elf 1802 recreation)
    by Spare Time Gizmos
    (not a badge format but faithful to the original size and format)

    While at VCF Midwest 11 (2016), I briefly met Korgo "Michael Goetzman"
    the Founder of CYPHERCON and designer of the CYPHERCON 2016 Electronic Badge

    Atmel AVR butterfly A badge featuring
    • Atmel AVR mega169PV Microcontroller
    • 14 segment six character LCD
    • joystick, speaker, serial port, real-time clock (RTC),
      internal flash memory and sensors for temperature and voltage.

    updated 30-December-2023