A Handy Breakout Board For E-Paper Hacking

If you follow the exploits of [Aaron Christophel] (and trust us, you should), you’ll know that for some time now he’s been rather obsessed with electronic price tags, specifically those with e-paper displays. It’s certainly not hard to see why — these low-power devices are perfect for ambient displays, and their integrated wireless capabilities mean you can put one in every room and update them from a central transmitter.

But with such a wide array of products on the market, [Aaron] has found himself doing a lot of e-paper reverse engineering. This involves sticking a logic analyzer between the display and the tag’s microcontroller, which he found to be a rather finicky task. That’s why he created the Universal E-Paper Sniffer: a breakout PCB that lets you snoop on display communication without having to resort to unpleasant methods like scratching off the solder mask to tap into the traces by hand.

It’s a pretty simple gadget: on either side, you’ve got a connector for 24 pin 0.5 mm pitch flat flex cable, which [Aaron] has identified as the most common interface for these displays, and in the middle you’ve got a standard 2.54 mm pitch header. There are no other components on the board, and all the traces go right through to the other side.

Add a few jumpers and a cheap logic analyzer, and you’re ready to sniff some SPI commands. Check out the video after the break for a general walk-through of what it looks like to start sniffing around a new display.

The Gerber files for the breakout are available for free, or you can chose to buy a fabricated board through PCBWay to kick [Aaron] a portion of the sale price. However you get one, we think this will be a handy little tool to have around if you find yourself bitten by the price tag hacking bug.

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E-Paper Clock Displays Things In A Battery-Friendly Manner

Clock builds are a hacker staple, and many overflow with power-thirsty LEDs and network features. This build from [mattwach] takes quite the opposite approach, sipping away at its batteries thanks to an e-paper based design.

The build relies on a small Waveshare e-paper module which only requires power when the display is actually changing. When static, the display needs no electricity, and this helps save a great amount of power compared to OLED or LCD-based clocks.

An Atmega328p is the heart of the build, running off a 32.768 KHz clock crystal for a combination of precise timekeeping and low power draw. Time is ensured to be both precise and accurate thanks to a GPS module which allows the clock to sync to satellite time when powered up. It’s a common way to sync clocks to a high-quality time source. Most of the time, though, the GPS is kept powered down to save the 30-100 mA that the module typically draws when in use.

Other features include a temperature, humidity, and pressure sensor, with ambient pressure graphed over time. There’s also notification of sunrise and sunset times, along with the current phase of the moon. It’s all wrapped up in a case tastefully manufactured using 3D printed parts and some wooden CNC-cut panels for a nice rustic look.

With the e-paper display and the microcontroller configured for low-power operation, the clock will run for around 6 months on four AAA cells. Overall, it’s a nifty little clock that will provide the time, date, and other information without the need for an Internet connection. Video after the break.

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Sunlight-Based Life Clock Predicts Your Darkest Hour

The past year has been quite a ride for everyone on Earth. But you never know which day is going to be your last, so you might as well live a little, eh? This clock doesn’t actually know when you’ll kick off, either. But just for fun, it predicts the number of years remaining until you go to that hackerspace in the sky by hazarding a guess that’s based on your current age and the latest life expectancy tables. Don’t like the outcome? It’s completely randomized, so just push the button and get a set of numbers: the age you might die, and the percentage of life elapsed and remaining.

We love the design of this calculated doom clock, and it’s quite simple inside — an Arduino Pro Mini outputs the graph on an 2.9″ e-paper display, and both are powered with a 5.5 V solar panel. Just suction cup that puppy to the window and you’ll get automatic updates about your impending demise on sunny days, and none on cloudy days.

Want a more realistic picture of your mortality? Here’s a clock that counts down to your 80th birthday.

New Part Day: Battery-Less NFC E-Paper Display

Waveshare, known for e-ink components aimed at hobbyists among other cool parts, has recently released a very interesting addition to their product line. This is an enclosed e-ink display which gets updated over a wireless NFC connection. By that description, nothing head-turning, but the kicker is that there is no battery inside the device at all, as it harvests the energy needed from the wireless communication itself.

Just like wireless induction charging in certain smartphones, the communication waves involved in NFC can generate a small current when passing through a coil, located on this device’s PCB. Since microcontrollers and e-ink displays consume a very small amount of current compared to other components such as a backlit LCD or OLED display, this harvested passive energy is enough to allow the display to update. And because e-paper requires no power at all to retain its image, once the connection is ended, no further battery backup is needed.

The innovation here doesn’t come from Waveshare however, as in 2013 Intel had already demoed a very similar device to promising results. There’s some more details about the project, but it never left the proof of concept stage despite being awarded two best paper awards. We wonder why it hadn’t been made into a commercial product for 5 years, but we’re glad it’s finally here for us to tinker with it.

E-paper is notorious for having very low refresh rates when compared to more conventional screens, much more so when driven in this method, but there are ways to speed them up a bit. Nevertheless, even when used as designed, they’re perfectly suited for being used in clocks which are easy on the eyes without a glaring backlight.

[Thanks Steveww for the tip!]

Pocket-size Pi Zero Desktop Features E-paper Display

[Ramin Assadollahi] uses his Raspberry Pi Zero W as a self-contained mobile desktop, connecting to it over VNC from another computer when he wants to hack away at some code or work on a new project. But he often found himself wishing there was some convenient way of displaying pertinent into right on the device, such as what IP address the Pi Zero had pulled. Then he found the 2.13 inch e-Paper HAT for the Pi Zero from Waveshare, and it all clicked into place.

The final device, which he refers to as the StickPi, combines a Pi Zero W, the Waveshare e-Paper display, and a strip of protoboard featuring a few tactile buttons, all inside of a 3D printed case. To really get the most out of the internal volume of his case, [Ramin] soldered the header pins to the Pi Zero in the middle, allowing him to create a space-saving “sandwich” out of all the components.

With the e-Paper display, [Ramin] now has a way to show information on the device itself without having to connect to it over the network. But thanks to the tactile switches on the back connected to the Pi’s GPIO, he also has six programmable buttons that could do anything he wants.

In the most basic implementation, each button could execute a command or script on the Pi. But [Ramin] has something a little more advanced in mind. In the video after the break, he explains that his next step is going to be working on an actual user interface for the Pi’s e-Paper screen, making use of the roughly gamepad style layout of the rear buttons. A “paged” interface with scrolling options would allow the user to perform all sorts of functions quickly and easily, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody try to turn the Pi Zero into a more mobile-friendly platform, and the construction method here actually reminds us of a much smaller version of the Zero Phone.

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ESP32 Boards With Displays: An Overview

The ESP8266 has become practically the 555 chip of WiFi connected microcontrollers. Traditionally, you’d buy one on a little breakout board with some pins and a few connectors, and then wire up anything else you need. The ESP8266’s big brother, the ESP32, hasn’t quite taken over from the ESP8266, but it has a lot more power and many more options. [Andreas] has a new video that shows seven new ESP32 boards that have integral displays. These boards can simplify a lot of applications where you need both WiFi and a user interface.

Of the boards examined, six of them have OLED displays, but one has an E-paper display. To summarize results, [Andreas] summarized his findings on these seven along with others in an online spreadsheet.

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