microcontroller badge kits

Renesas, Freescale Kinetis Kwikstik and Coldfire, The Next Hope badge kits

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, StrongARM, MIPS and PowerPC 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.

I just got my PocketCHIP from Next Thing Co.
They're now US $69.00 (the $49 promotion is over).

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

Freescale ColdFire
JMBADGE: Flexis JM Badge Board

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

The front shows the 5x16 LED array, 8 touch pads, expansion area and 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.

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.

Many folks received these RFID badges and modified them with programming and hardware changes.
The RFID badge was silk-screened to double as a human readable event badge!
The unpopulated PC board were 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 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.

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

Renesas

The Renesas M16C Platform Evaluation Kit
It requires the USB programmer-dongle for power but it has demo programs 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 possibly having 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!
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

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)



Parallax Electronic Conference Badge:
Hackable microcontroller badge designed for real peer-to-peer interaction.


Hack-A-Day reviews the open, hackable electronic conference badge
Badges are $49.00 in three varieties: Guest (blue) Staff (white) Speaker (black)
Features
  • Propeller 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
DEFCON 20 (July 2012) had the earlier version
with colored & shaped PCB artwork, no OLED display.
developer & tech info is here



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


updated 20-October-2016