Tearing Down a $1000 E-Ink Display

Back in 2016, Chinese company Dasung blew past their Indiegogo goal to fund the Paperlike: the world’s first general purpose E-Ink display. Rather than being stuck in a reader from your favorite purveyor of DRM like previous displays, the Paperlike could be used with whatever device you wanted; albeit in black and white and at a relatively low refresh rate. It promised to allow reading and writing on your computer or tablet without needing a backlight. The price was steep at $800 USD for a 13″ display, but clearly enough people were interested to make the device a reality.

At least they have a sense of humor about it.

You can count [Kev Zettler] among the Paperlike devotees. He’s such a fan of the technology that he’s on the road to building a DIY E-Ink laptop using the latest generation Paperlike Pro. But before he can do that, he’s got to take the thing apart and see how it ticks. While a lot of the proprietary magic that makes the display work is still a mystery, he does his best to document the internals for those of us who are a bit to shy to take a screwdriver to a display that costs $1,000.

It looks like the Paperlike Pro is designed (either intentionally or otherwise) to look a bit like the Amazon Kindle, and the construction method is unfortunately the same. The front panel is glued on, and needs to be peeled off by getting under it with something sharp and prying it off carefully. For a $100 e-reader we can deal with that, but for as much as the Paperlike Pro costs that kind of disassembly gives us the chills.

He’s identified the bare display module as a 13.3 inch ED133UT2, which led him down an interesting path investigating other displays in the same family. It turns out the one Dasung went with is essentially the low end of the spectrum. The display has glare issues and is permanently bonded to a piece of glass, whereas other models in the same family boast not only flexibility but anti-glare coatings. There’s even one with integrated touch screen. [Kev] mentions that one of those displays would be much better for his E-Ink laptop project, but we’re assuming he’s not going to toss this thing in the bin just because there’s better options out there.

Beyond the display itself there’s a custom Dasung control board that [Kev] says is a bit too complex for him to decipher, made especially difficult thanks to the fact that the chips have had their labels removed. One interesting discovery though was the USB port which is officially supposed to be just for power has all four wires connected to the main board, raising the possibility of some future software hacking.

You might not know this, but hackers absolutely love E-Ink. We’ve covered some very impressive projects utilizing this paper-like tech in the past, from an entry in our 2017 Hackaday Prize to the chemistry involved in homebrewing your own displays.

Evil Hotspot Costume Makes Valuable Connections

This year for Hallowe’en, [Scott] went out dressed as a Comcast xfinity hotspot. Funny, yes, but there’s a deeper meaning here. [Scott] really went as a walking PSA that illustrates the dangers of making assumptions about the relative safety of WiFi networks based solely on their broadcast names.

[Scott] could have gone chaotic evil with this setup, but he didn’t. No one could actually get on the Internet through him. Inside the “hotspot” are a Wi-Fi adapter and a Pi Zero running a captive portal. It broadcasts the default ‘XFINITY’ and ‘xfinitywifi’ SSIDs, plus a bunch of other common network names. Whenever anyone tries to connect, or worse, their phone automatically connects, they’ll hear a sad tuba cadence. This comes courtesy of a multi-sound effects box that’s controlled by the Pi through a relay board.

Meanwhile, the mark’s device is redirected to an internally-hosted “xfinity” login page. Anyone who actually goes on to enter their login credentials is treated to a classic horror film scream sample while the evil hotspot quietly stores their name and password and displays them on an e-ink display for all to see — a walking e-ink wall of sheep. Check out the demo after the break.

[Scott]’s evil hotspot is powered by a huge battery that can run it for 24 hours. Here’s a wind- and solar-powered WAP we covered several years ago.

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[Ben Krasnow] Hacks E-Paper For Fastest Refresh Rate

[Ben Krasnow] is known for his clear explanations alongside awesome hardware, being one of only a few hackers who owns an electron microscope. This time he’s explaining how E-paper works while modifying the firmware of a 4.2 inch E-paper module to get a higher refresh rate. As for the awesome hardware, he also analyses the signals going to the E-paper using an ultra-fancy loaner oscilloscope.

E-paper explanation diagram
E-paper explanation diagram

After starting out with a demo of the firmware in action before and after his modification, he explains how the E-paper works. The display is made up of many isolated chambers, each containing charged particles in a liquid. For example, the positive particles might be black and the negative might be white. By putting an electric field across each chamber, the white particles would be attracted to one end while the black would be attracted to the other, which could be the end you’re looking at. He also explains how it’s possible to get a third color by using different sized particles along with some extra manipulation of the electric field. And he talks about the issue of burn-in and how to avoid it.

Having given us that background, he then walks us through some of the firmware and shows how he modified it to make it faster, namely by researching various datasheets and subsequently modifying some look-up-tables.

Turning back to the hardware, he shows how he scratches out some traces so that he can attach scope probes. This alone seems like a notable achievement, though he points out that the conductive layer holds up well to his scratching. At that point he analyses the signals while running some demos.

The result is the very informative, interesting and entertaining video which you can watch below.

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An Arduino Weather Station With An E-Ink Display

For our Northern Hemisphere readers the chill winds of winter are fast approaching, so it seems appropriate to feature a weather station project. Enjoy your summer, Southern readers!

[Fandonov] has created a weather station project with an Arduino Uno at its heart and a Waveshare e-ink display as its face to the world, and as its write-up (PDF) describes, it provides an insight into both some of the quirks of these displays, and into weather forecasting algorithms.

The hardware follows a straightforward formula, aside from Arduino and display it boasts an Adafruit sensor board and a hardware clock. Software-wise though there are some tricks to give the display a scalable font that other tinkerers might find useful, drawing characters as a matrix of filled circle primitives.

The write-up gives an introduction to forecasting based only on local readings rather than on the huge volumes of data over a wide area used by professional meteorologists. In play here is the Zambretti algorithm, which takes the readings and information about whether they are rising or falling, and returns a forecast from a look-up table.

As we’ll all be aware, even professional weather forecasting is fraught with inaccuracies, but this is nonetheless an interesting project that is very much worth a second look. Meanwhile we’ve covered huge numbers of weather stations in the past, a couple of interesting ones are this one using a classic TI99/4A home computer, and more relevant here, this one using an e-paper badge.

Thanks [Phil] for the tip!

Breadboarding with E-Paper

[David Watts] picked up an inexpensive Waveshare e-Paper display. He made a video about using it with a breadboard, and you can see it below.

The E-Paper or E-Ink displays have several advantages. They are low power, they retain their display even without power, and they are very visible in direct light. The downside is they don’t update as fast as some other display technologies.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: An E-Ink Calendar

E-ink displays are becoming almost common in DIY electronics circles, and now we have very capable, low-power microcontrollers, some of which feature some sort of wireless connectivity. Combine these two, and you have the potential for a basic information screen — a low-power device that always displays some sort of relevant information, whether it’s the date or the weather.

For their Hackaday Prize entry, [Wenting] and [Dong] are building an e-ink calendar. It’s a calendar, it displays bitmaps, it can display the time, and with a little more hacking it can display the weather, current traffic, or train schedule. If this were the 90s, we would have called this an information appliance, and it would have blown everyone’s minds.

The current design of this e-ink calendar uses an 800 x 600 pixel display working in 16-level grayscale mode. The processor is an STM32F4, and in a cost-reducing revision, an external SRAM was thrown out and the frame buffer was moved to the internal RAM. The e-ink display is actually pretty quick, allowing for greater than 10 FPS in 1-bit mode.

As with any e-ink project, driving the display is a minor nightmare, but [Wenting] is able to push a few frames per second to the display. That’s good enough for a device that shouldn’t actually change all that much — this is a calendar, after all.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Health-Monitoring Flexible Smartwatch

[Nick Ames]’s Flexible Smartwatch project aims to create an Open Source smartwatch made out of a flexible, capacitive e-ink touchscreen that uses the whole surface of the band. This wraparound smartwatch displays information from the on-board pulse and blood oximetry sensor as well as the accelerometer and magnetometer, giving you a clear idea of how stressed you are about your upcoming meeting.

The display [Nick] went with is called an electrophoretic display (EPD). It’s 400×200-pixels at 115ppi with a 4″ diagonal, and can bend around a wrist. It can draw shapes in 16 shades of gray with a refresh time of under a second or B&W with a faster refresh.

The smartwatch described in [Nick]’s project would be 2.5mm thick — certainly thin enough to fit under a sleeve. We suspect that success of the form factor may hinge on [Nick]’s success in making it not look like a hospital wristband. Although this gives us the thought that a biofeedback-sensing smart wristband is probably the future of hospital stays.