Socialising the Internet of Things - making the badges
We were keen to make sure that our Social Media Week slot was rooted in the practical, as well as the conversational, so we decided to create an Internet of Things experiment, relying on 150 technology-loaded badges.
The event was a success and the badges (more like lanyards) worked well. They encouraged new interactions with technology and generated discussions. But building the badges in two weeks was not a simple affair. Tight deadlines, inter-continental shipping issues and mass soldering workloads all stood as challenges in the way of completion. But here's how we got it done:
The project was sparked by Matt McGuire and Tim Brooke who got hands-on with the prototype versions of the badges at EMF camp. The badges are essentially Arduino Leonardo with hard-wired Infrared and RF communications on-board. They were called "Tilda" and had been developed by Charles Yarnold. The badges needed significant developments to be suitable for the event:
1. They had no on/off switch - so to turn them off you needed to physically disconnect the battery. We would need an on off switch
2. They were a wavy shape and blue in colour (schematic can be found here) - we decided they should be rectangular (more lanyard-like) and black to match Imagination's branding guidelines
3. The batteries were bulky and overkill for what we needed them for so we ordered smaller size/capacity batteries
4. They were a bit too "raw" so we decided to develop the clear acrylic cover for them.
It was important that we started developing the code straight away, but we only had 3 badges for testing to start with. Given that we were devising a network and a team-based game mechanic, 3 badges wasnt enough. This forced us to purchase some arduino leonardos, IR sensors and RF chips to make mock-badges which we could test with.
The biggest issue was the batteries. We had sourced batteries from China, which seemed like a good idea at the time, as they were about 15% of the cost of buying the same batteries in the UK.
However as the days rolled on and the event loomed larger, it became apparent that they would not arrive in time for use to attach them to the boards. This triggered a mad scramble for batteries. In the end we used 90 from Charles Yarnold's personal supply and 60 from cool components. This meant we did not get the smaller size and capacity ones we preferred.
Making the acrylic fronts was relatively straightforward. They were designed in Illustrator with the Imagination logo, #SMWsocialobjects hashtag and some etching to diffuse the extremely bright on-board SMDs. They were outsourced to Blueprint Model Shop to be laser cut which took a total of 5 hours.
The construction of the badges proved to be very time consuming. Each board required a battery (2 solder points) and an RF chip (10 solder points). After those 1800 solders, each board needed to be boot-loaded (basically installing the operating system on it) and then flashed with our code.
This took about 2 minutes per board, excluding plenty of time re-doing badges which initially failed. Finally the acrylic front was paired with the board and a lanyard lace was attached.
Everything was finished with a comfortable 15 minutes to spare. [ED - make that about 15 seconds to spare, the delegates were just starting to arrive!]
If you'd like to make your own badges, please feel free to use/improve our code. We'd love to hear what connected devices you are creating and why.