The "must have" item from ESC Boston -- a wireless mesh-networked badge that will help you network -- is within your grasp.
I have to tell you that I'm currently bouncing off the walls with excitement because I've just received my prototype of the ESC 2016 Collectible Edition "Hello There!" badge. Before we go any further, take a quick peek at this video, which should help clarify the remainder of this column.
As you see, this was filmed with me standing in front of a neutral-colored wall because I didn’t want anything like overly-flamboyant wallpaper to detract from the topic in hand. So, now you've seen this little rascal in action, let's delve deeper into the world of "Hello There!" badges.
One of the questions I'm often asked is why embedded designers should attend events like the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) when so much information is available on the Internet. Well, one point is the technical portion of the conference. I know that I personally find it much easier to learn stuff when I have a live presenter in front of me, not the least that all sorts of wacky questions tend to pop into my mind and it's nice to have someone who has a clue available to answer them.
But the main reason to attend an event like ESC is the ability to network with one's peers. It can be really advantageous to meet up with other engineers who are working in the same fields as oneself, just to have someone to bounce ideas off. It can also be advantageous to meet folks who specialize in other domains. I cannot tell you how often I run into a problem that's outside my area of expertise, and then I think "Hang on, that guy Bob I met at ESC Boston last year was working on something like this -- now, where did I put his business card?"
One teeny-weeny problem here is that -- generally speaking, and I say this with love -- engineers' social and networking skills can best be described as "non-optimal." In fact, I'm reminded of the old engineering joke:
Q: How can you tell if an engineer is an extrovert or an introvert?
A: If he's an extrovert, he looks at your shoes when he's talking to you!
All of which explains why we came up with the idea of the "Hello There!" badge with its 8 x 8 matrix of LEDs that can be used to scroll text messages and play games. When you power-up these little beauties, they immediately link up with each other to form a low-power wireless mesh network. Using DIP switches, you inform your badge as to your area(s) of interest: ANALOG, DIGITAL, HARDWARE, SOFTWARE, STEM, and/or the IOT.
Later, as you are happily ambling around the conference, your badge will proudly proclaim your domain(s) of expertise for all to see. Even better, when you move into close proximity with another badge holder, your badges will communicate with each other and -- if you are both interested in the IoT, for example -- they will alert you to this nugget of knowledge, thereby prompting to you say "Well, hello there fellow IoT aficionado," or words to that effect.