A badge of honour!


I was approached recently by Dr Patricia Charlton to conceive, design and build 30 ‘interactive conference badges’ for an AI Summer School here at The Open University she was organising in association with The Institute of Coding. The brief was literally that…. brief! Some discussion defined that something was required that would record a student’s progress as they completed the activities over the duration of the course.

So, it needs to be….

  • Something cooooooool!
  • Something that can visually display progress
  • Small enough to hang around your neck
  • Long enough battery life

At this point, I did some experiments with the Pi Zero but it was cost rather than size that scratched this one this time. So, it was time to go to the dark side!…. Arduino Nano here we go (Sorry, loyal Pi fans!)

I recently designed and ran a QR based treasure hunt at the OU which was extremely successful and we often commented that doing similar but using NFC tags would be very cool. So…. what if we built badges with NFC readers / writers…. Oooh… and cool Neopixels to light it up!

It begins…

We also wanted to tie in the badge to The Open University, The Institute of Coding and the fact that it’s the OU’s 50th birthday this year. For the outline design for the badge we quickly realised that the OU logo was a beautiful form factor so we began to see what we could fit inside it.


I did the initial design in OpenScad (as usual, I just find it works so well for my needs)

I then started to experiment to see how components could be laid out inside the badge.


Testing…. testing….


Once I was happy with the concept, and was satisfied that it was practical, we went from prototype… to production.

The cases were printed by Kevin Dewar in the Rapid Prototyping lab here at the OU – thanks Kev!


I then started the long process of the assembly of the internal components for each badge.

C1F95853-12AF-4D02-B8C1-FB11E800BAFE    ED66841C-E319-4CF9-96B7-3E120D2FBF22

7FB8322A-D7A5-414D-B6FF-CFCC44264EEA    B3463A7A-90AE-4177-A67C-755537981091

Yes. I did this 30 times… :)

I also designed stickers for the front of the badge to give it a really nice finish. I was *really* pleased with the way these came out.


The organiser, Trish (Dr. Charlton!), then came up trumps and managed to source custom OU 50th Birthday lanyards for the finishing touch which makes the badges look really very cool (imho, of course!)

The finished badges…..


There were seven challenges over the two days of the course and the badge is designed to change colour after a specific challenge is completed and the badge is tapped on an NFC marker. The students were given the badge to take away and were also given an additional blank NFC key fob with instructions and code for hacking the badge in their own time.

And here’s a final test to make sure they all work before they were given out to the students!

This has been a fun, if at times stressful, project. The difference between prototype and production is *enormous* – I’m fairly certain I know where my skill sets lie!

Until next time.


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