They Have Electronics In Junk Mail Now

On the way to the mailbox, you might be expecting bills, birthday cards, perhaps a grocery store catalogue or two. [Steve] was like you, once – until an embedded computer showed up in the junk mail.

The mailer turned out to be from the Arconic corporation – some sort of publication trying to sway a board of directors vote one way or the other. But far more interesting is the hardware inside. The device consisted of a 3″ LCD screen within folded cardboard, some buttons and a micro USB port. After the device let the smoke out when [Steve] attempted to charge it, the next step was naturally to perform a full teardown.

It was a simple job to identify the chips inside which still had their factory markings, and [Steve] found that it appeared to share its design with an Audi marketing material from 2014. It’s rather amazing that such technology is cheap enough for this sort of mass mailout, though [Steve] notes that it’s rather an imprudent move to post out a “fire hazard that needs to be specially recycled”.

This reminds us of the e-paper Esquire magazine display from a few years back.

50 thoughts on “They Have Electronics In Junk Mail Now

  1. I don’t think he got it in his mail by chance. Based on the *supposed* cost of production (very artisanal) I would say that it has been very well target to specific customers like him. Too bad he did not get to turn it on once

    1. I can’t say anything about the electronics, never having seen one, but I’m guessing it was sent to all individual investors in the company. It Steve’s not an investor someone on the other end made a mistake.
      I used to get all kinds of things from companies I invested in. They’ll toss about anything out the door to try to get you to vote their way when it comes to the board and a whole host of other things. Some of the packages I’d receive were ridiculous. I’d swear some of them were so large and over the top that it cost them more to send it to me than I had invested in the first place! :P

      1. Just curious, are some of the companies you mentioned still around? Or did they go broke spending investment money unwisely? (that comment is not meant to be an insult on your investment knowledge)

    2. I didn’t follow the link, but the above article didn’t say the recipient didn’t get to turn it on, just that it died when he tried to recharge it.
      My (late) F-I-L received something similar from an organization looking for some heavy donors. Only his came with a mini-USB port that allows recharging. I tore it open, hoping to find a micro-SD slot in it, but it doesn’t. (It still works)

      1. Nope…. He didn’t get to turn it on.

        What I think happened:
        The card wasn’t well put together, something shorted in transit (BMOW, demand a replacement! For the hell of it of course!). The battery blatantly took a brunt and its safety kicked in after the SMPS fried. He powered the thing with 5v-USB and it smoked… That or a solder bridge.

  2. These can be bought on alibaba or taobao for a few bucks each in volume. Mounts as a thumb drive.
    File structure is pretty straightforward and there are likely to be extra triggers on board. Each trigger plays a .mp4 file ( like 1.mp4 will play when input one is triggered)

          1. Take something like an old, outdated encyclopaedia. Especially one of those door-to-door conman ones. Thousands of them were printed, the information’s useless now, they’re only any good for the aesthetic value of their binding and covers. The pages and information within are worthless.

            So take one of those books and skin it! Skin it alive!

            You could even hide Wikipedia in Morse code, on an LED in there somewhere. So it’s still an encyclopaedia, and you can tell your conscience you’ve vandalised nothing.

            FWIW there’s places who sell old books by the metre, for use in decorating. Cheaper than, I dunno, sand. If they don’t sell at all, they get recycled. You’re not going to be able to rescue every old book in the world, and it wouldn’t be desirable to do anyway. Don’t feel bad about giving the bookbinder’s work a fresh lifetime.

  3. Why don’t we see such “Junk mail” over here in the UK, unless, I guess, the mail is/was targeted.
    Sounds likely the latter of the two.

    Either way, looks like those innards of cheap picture-frames.
    Wouldn’t it be useful if they (Digital picture frame MFG) could have some form of external TMDS signalling input on some exposed pads to get around Vesa+friends licencing?

    1. Nope. UPS has a pretty good guide on shipping lithium ion batteries to comply with federal laws. Their requirements are probably pretty close to the USPS, but I don’t know for sure.

      If the batteries are small enough, and they are contained within equipment (not just loose cells), you can ship them just fine.

    2. Nope. As long as they are properly packaged to handle heat, shock and moisture; you can ship them. Some might require notifying the post office so that they can be handled accordingly.

      1. The LCD uses a standard parallel interface, so it can be connected to almost any single board computer, but the linked forum post says there’s an entire Allwinner CPU inside these things. If you can reverse engineer the screen and button connections you could install a Linux distro on them, no need for external Pi.

      1. It is currently serving as a server load monitor display. I have thrown one with a broken screen away and get these about once a month from a high end marketing company trying to get my biz. (the broken one was from Audi). I would give it away but I like it.

      1. Thanks for the link! I have several friends and family who would be impressed to receive a Christmas card like that!
        (Not that I would mail them out to EVERYBODY on the Christmas card list.)

  4. I was able to get video playing on a couple of these but it wasn’t straightforward. I had to have the same filename, video size, and video format to make it play. ffmpeg handled it. After that, you just copy the file over the ones on the device. So far the most I have fit is a 22 minute tv show, but it will play all the way through several times.

  5. Last year Netflix sent one of these out to promote Beasts of no Nation for the SAG awards. Iirc, the screen was probably 6″ and displayed an extended trailer for the show. It had a speaker, too. It was built like a landscape 8.5″x11″ greeting card, and opening it up removed a magnet from a reed switch which triggered the trailer.

    My wife trashed it before I could really dive into it because I was annoying her so badly (from playing with it so much). It had a micro USB port hidden under one of the cardboard sides, but I didn’t get a chance to plug it in and see what I could do with it.

  6. I received one and plugged it into my laptop USB port. Windows 10 recognized it as a drive without hesitation. The video files are in one folder. I removed those files and copied in a small one made using an iPhone and the Arconic player happily played my .MOV file. If you have one, put it up on eBay and I’ll put a watch out and offer you a few dollars for it. Just put uVideo in the item description.

  7. It seems like a relatively common thing (in the US), have a look here, they list Audi, Mazda, HP, Dell (to name a few re-known brands) among their customers:
    They have seemingly trademarked the “Video in Print” name, most probably the actual devices are still (once customized, etc.) too expensive to be “mass-sent”, and probably they make them in “few thousands” batches, reserved to “high profile” customers/investors/etc.

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