The Open Source Combadge Server

In 2003, an engineer and Star Trek fan began deploying a healthcare communications device based on the wearable version of the Star Trek communicator. Since 2004, these badges have been dispatched to hospitals worldwide, and since 2005, they have been dispatched to landfills. Six major revisions exist – the B1000 microcontroller with a WiFi chipset stuck to it, the B2000 that replaced the microcontroller with a rudimentary Linux-on-ARM architecture, the B3000 that was little more than a visual redesign, the B3000N which finally updated the device to a semi-modern architecture, the V5000 “Smart-Badge” that changed the entire design completely and the C1000 “Mini-Badge” that changes it again in the other direction.

These last five (if running up-to-date software) use a standard audio protocol (RTP) with a standard audio codec (G.711 μ-Law), over standard network infrastructure. So, why exactly does this need an expensive server application to make them do anything at all? In short, because – the OEM Voice Server features expensive, high quality NLP speech recognition based on Nuance’s commercial technology. It’s also been designed for extreme resiliency for use in medical settings. That said; for home users to call family and for hackers to get coffee, that’s probably not so necessary.

Spin Doctor (a pun on the name and intended market of the OEM Vendor) has a simple goal – take the surplus or outdated Combadges out of the e-waste stream and give them to Star Trek nerds. The project is building a new server that speaks the “command and control” protocol that manages badges and their users, and uses open source libraries to produce a rudimentary speech-controller user agent. Collectively, these allow hackers to run their own Combadge server, and call both other badges and in time, external SIP-connected devices from a cheap device that would otherwise have simply added to global pollution.

And hopefully they can make some coffee with them, too.