Creating a con badge with PyPortal
Sun Jul 14, 2019

The Setup

Recently I've heard about multiple people working on con badges and decided to try my hand at a simple take on the idea. Since I had just recently received my PyPortal Adabox I thought I would use that as my first platform to get started.

From the product page the PyPortal is:

An easy-to-use IoT device that allows you to create all the things for the “Internet of Things” in minutes. Make custom touch screen interface GUIs, all open-source, and Python-powered using tinyJSON / APIs to get news, stock, weather, cat photos, and more – all over Wi-Fi with the latest technologies. Create little pocket universes of joy that connect to something good. Rotate it 90 degrees, it’s a web-connected conference badge #badgelife.

Like many other CircuitPython powered devices the PyPortal has a great Explore and Learn page available that walks you through getting the right firmware installed as well as providing hardware breakdowns, code demos and FAQ.

Once I had the PyPortal up to date and had gone through a couple demos I landed on having my first badge being a simple menu systems. While many badges will contain easter eggs or ways to interact with other badges I decided to keep it simple for this first run. I wanted my badge to be able to display a couple pieces of static data and have a couple interactive options.

I landed on a Button menu that would show a couple maps, a photo of my badge, a countdown to Gen Con, and a simple D20 roller.

Gen Con 2019 PyPortal Badge

Along the way I made extensive use of the docs and source code that Adafruit provides.

I also found it easy to find documentation for the module I would pull in from the library modules by referencing the list of submodules on Read the Docs

Curiosities

While building my badge I ran into some interesting edges that I hope to explore further. I'm sharing these here just in case somebody else reads this and can avoid similar pitfalls or suggest a different direction.

Lessons Learned

Similar to the interesting behaviors I found above I learned a bit about developing with CircuitPython and how it can differ from my day to day Python development along the way.

Next Steps

So with v1 of the badge prepared and ready for Gen Con 2019 I'm going to step back and work on some other items in this space. While working on the project I found out that labels don't support an orientation flag. After mentioning this in discord I opened an issue on Github with some encouragement from @ladyada. Hopefully I can spend some cycles working on that.

I also continue to think about how to write tests for CircuitPython. Since the runtime is tied to the boards it's not as simple as running the code in a CPython unittest environment. While there is a lot of overlap in the API and behavior it's not a one to one match. I think being able to test the code would lead to faster development cycles and would open the door to better profiling and understanding of my applications behavior.

Finally I plan to back up and read Making Embdedded Systems by Elicia White and visit some other embedded getting started materials. While I had a lot of ideas for this project (and I'm happy with how it turned out) I realized that since I'm not as familiar with this type of hardware environment I struggled at times to get the functionality I was looking for with the performance I needed.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the team at Adafruit. The devices they build and the creation of CircuitPython has lead me to pick up a hobby that continues to be fun and encourages me to think in new ways about hardware and the programs I'm writing. Additionally Adafruit has a discord where many people have been incredibly patient and helpful as I learn and ask questions.

Contact

I've really enjoyed working on this project. If you want to reach out feel free to follow up via email or on Sourcehut.

You can find out more about the badge and source code in the repo

More Photos

Some additional photos of the portal. I've ordered a case off thingiverse, but using the Adabox case while I wait.

Gen Con 2019 PyPortal Home Gen Con 2019 PyPortal D20 Gen Con 2019 PyPortal Con Badge Gen Con 2019 PyPortal Countdown


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