Creating the Boilerboards

About one month before Boilermake VI we learned that we would be able to sponsor the event. At this point our conveyor kit was still a work in progress and not ready to use for the hackathon. We knew that we would need to have some hardware to for people to work with so we decided to create our own hardware badge. If you don’t know already, a badge in this context refers to a “hackable” piece of custom hardware. These badges are often created and sold at hacking conferences such as Defcon.

Examples of different badges from hacking conferences.[1]
Examples of different badges from hacking conferences.

After we laid out a rough design of what we wanted in the badge, we started designing the pcb using CAD. For this badge we used a program called Kicad which is free and open-source. In this program we first created a schematic of board, assigned each of the symbols a footprint, and placed all of these footprints on a pcb. After review, we plotted this design and submitted it to PCBWay to be milled into the individual boards.

Boilerboard pcbs right after arriving.
Boilerboard pcbs right after arriving.

It took me about a week of dedicated soldering to assemble all 20 of the boards. I found the most efficient method of soldering to be to pick a single component and solder them to all of the boards before moving on to the next component.

A completed Boilerboard.
A completed Boilerboard.

Creating the Challenge

Another feature of these badges is that they often have a challenge to go with them that requires the user “hack” the badge in some way for the answer. This could be completing a game, solving a puzzle, or a technical challenge relating to the hardware in the badge. In the upcoming weeks before Boilermake we created a challenge that contained three smaller puzzles that could be solved through the use of our guides:

  1. Repeating characters output to REPL
  2. Morse code
  3. Snake

For the first challenge they would need to plug the badge into their computer and open a REPL for it. When buttons are pressed they would see a repeating list of characters appear. These characters correspond to the different buttons on the board that can be entered as a code. In the Morse code challenge, an LED would blink in morse code characters that correspond to button presses. The last challenge was a game of Snake where the user needs to score 15 to win.

The Hackathon

Overall the hackathon was a great success for us. We learned a lot about what we can do to improve our guides and hardware. We had over 10 people try out our hardware and we had two winners of the our badge challenge described above. We later sponsored Madhacks and a group win our best use of the Boilerboard challenge as well. You can see their project here.

The Micronote booth at Boilermake VI.
The Micronote booth at Boilermake VI.

1 Kraft, Caleb. “Badgelife: Where Art And Electrical Engineering Collide | Make:” Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers, Make: Projects, 24 Aug. 2018, Link