An E-Book Reader, But Just For Haiku

E-ink displays haven’t revolutionized the world so much as served us humbly in e-book readers such as the Kindle and its ilk. Most such readers are designed for extended sessions reading novels and the like, but [Roni Bandini] decided a haiku-sized device was in order. 

The diminutive device runs off an ESP32, which has plenty of clock cycles for easily driving displays. It’s paired with a 2.9 inch Waveshare e-ink display, upon which it delivers poetry in the popular Japanese haiku format – 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. Writing to the display is easy with the GxEPD library, which is compatible with a variety of common e-ink displays. Presently the poetry is hardcoded in the program, and there’s plenty that could be included with the ESP32’s roomy program storage. However, [Roni] notes it would be simple to have the reader pull poems from an SD card instead.

It’s a fun project, and a great way to get familiar with the basics of working with e-ink displays. We’d love to see a WiFi-enabled version that pulls down the hottest daily haikus fresh from the web, too. Funnily enough, our own archives only feature one other reference to the famous Japanese art, which has little to do with poetry. If you fancy changing that, make something relevant and drop us a line. Video after the break.

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ESP32 Inkplate Gives Kindle Displays A Second Chance

Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of hackers repurpose their Kindle or similar e-reader to reap the benefits of its electronic paper display. Usually this takes the form of some software running on the reader itself, since cracking the firmware is a lot easier than pulling out the panel and figuring out how to operate it independently. But what if somebody had already done that hard work for you?

Enter the Inkplate. By pairing a recycled Kindle display with an ESP32, Croatian electronics company e-radionica says they’ve not only created an open hardware e-paper display that’s easy for hackers and makers to use, but keeps electronic waste out of the landfill. Last year the $99 USD 6 inch version of the Inkplate ended its CrowdSupply campaign at over 920% of its original goal. The new 9.7 inch model is priced at $129, and so far managed to blow past its own funding goal just hours after the campaign went live. Clearly, the demand is there.

The new model’s e-paper display isn’t just larger, it also features a higher 1200 x 825 resolution and reduced refresh time. Outside of the screen improvements, you’ll also find more GPIO pins, an RTC module to keep more accurate time, and a USB Type-C port for both programming and power. You also get a choice of languages to use, with both Arduino and MicroPython libraries available for interfacing with the display. Interestingly, the Inkplate also features a so-called “Peripheral Mode” that allows you to draw graphics primitives on the screen using commands sent over UART.

While we’ve recently seen some very promising efforts to repurpose old e-paper displays, the turn-key solution offered by the Inkplate is admittedly very compelling. If you’re looking for an easy way to jump on the electronic paper bandwagon that works out of the box, this might be your chance.

[Thanks to Krunoslav for the tip.]

Old Kindle Shows HDMI Video, Eventually

Even with the recent price reductions on stand-alone panels, picking up a used Kindle is still arguably the most cost effective way to get your hands on a large electronic paper display. Especially when you consider the Kindle includes a battery, case, and electronics to drive the display. Bending the Kindle software to your whims introduces its own unique challenges of course, but with a little tweaking, an old e-reader can live again as whatever you wish it to be.

Case in point, the OkMonitor project by [Brendan Sleight]. Using a somewhat dizzying combination of software and hardware, he’s figured out a way to turn an older Kindle Paperwhite into a plug-and-play HDMI monitor. Is it a great monitor? Far from it. As the name implies, the best you can hope to get from this solution is an OK monitor. But at least it’s something.

There’s quite a bit going on behind the scenes in OkMonitor, which [Brendan] describes through a slideshow on the project page. But the high-level idea is that a Raspberry Pi 4 with a simple USB HDMI capture device takes the video input and converts it on the fly to a scaled down Kindle-friendly format. The converted video is streamed over WiFi to the jailbroken Kindle with netcat, where it’s displayed by a native video player. In the video after the break you can see that the end result looks pretty impressive, even if there is a considerable delay involved.

Despite the demonstration [Brendan] has put together for OkMonitor, we can’t say we’d watch many films over this setup. But the fact that you can plug any HDMI device into the “base station” and have the video sent out to one or more Kindles is undeniably impressive. It’s definitely worth a close look, even if you just take some of the concepts of this project to get your own Kindle repurposing idea off the ground.

We’ve recently seen some promising progress made towards repurposing large e-paper price tags labels, but it’s hard to imagine such niche devices will ever become cheaper than second hand Kindles. With continued software development, these old e-readers are likely to remain quite popular among hackers.

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Solar Pi Zero E-Paper Photo Frame Waits For The Right Moment

One of the biggest advantages of electronic paper is that it doesn’t require a constant power source to display a static image. Depending on the application, this can lead to a massive energy savings compared to more traditional display technologies. Of course, the electronics that actually drive the display are another story entirely. You need to reduce the energy requirements of the whole system if you really want to stretch your battery life.

So when [Giacomo Miceli] wanted to put together this solar powered e-paper photo frame, he had to come up with some creative ways to curb the energy consumption of the Raspberry Pi Zero that runs the show. While the 10.3 inch 1872 × 1404 panel would only require the occasional burst of power to flick over to a new image, the Pi would be a constant drain on the internal battery pack. Considering he wanted the frame to recharge from ambient light with an array of small solar panels, that simply wouldn’t do.

The solution came in the form of a PiJuice HAT and some scripts that decide how often the Pi is to be powered on based on the current battery level. If there’s enough power, it might be every hour or so. But the lower the charge, the longer the delay. When the energy situation is particularly dire, the Pi might only be turned on every couple of days. With the Pi off and the e-paper not drawing any power, all of the energy produced by the solar panels can be devoted to recharging the frame’s 1,000 mAh battery.

When the Pi does get booted up, it quickly connects to a server to download a new image and update the display. After that, it ascertains the current battery level and determines how long the PiJuice should wait before turning it back on. After these tasks are complete, it will turn itself off until the next scheduled event. All told, [Giacomo] says the Pi is only up and running for about a minute each time the image is refreshed on the e-paper. He says the system has been running for six weeks now, with the battery level occasionally dipping down to 40% or so before it climbs back up.

Admittedly the energy consumption of the frame could be cut drastically by replacing the Raspberry Pi with a simple microcontroller, but we appreciate the creativity. Besides, the power and flexibility afforded by the Pi means this frame could be taught quite a few new tricks with some updated software.

ARM And X86 Team Up In No Compromise Cyberdeck

Over the last couple of years the cyberdeck community has absolutely exploded. Among those who design and build these truly personal computers there are no hard rules, save perhaps making sure the final result looks as unconventional as possible. But one thing that’s remained fairly consistent is the fact that these machines are almost exclusively powered by the Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, that means they often leave something to be desired in terms of raw performance.

But [MSG] had a different idea. His cyberdeck still has the customary Raspberry Pi inside, but it also has an i7 Intel NUC that can be fired up at the touch of a button. He says it’s the best of both worlds: an energy efficient ARM Linux platform for mobile experimentation, and a powerful x86 Windows box for playing games working from home. It’s the hacker equivalent of business in the front, party in the back.

With a KVM connected to the custom Planck 40% mechanical keyboard and seven inch LCD, [MSG] can switch between both systems on the fly. Assuming he’s got the juice anyway; while the Raspberry Pi 4 and LCD is able to run on a pair of 18650 batteries, the cyberdeck needs to be plugged in if he wants to use the power-hungry NUC. If he ditched the Pi he could potentially load up the case with enough batteries to get the Intel box spun up, but that would be getting a little too close to a conventional laptop.

The whole plurality theme doesn’t stop at the computing devices, either. In addition to the primary LCD, there’s also a 2.13 inch e-paper display and a retro-style LED matrix courtesy of a Pimoroni Micro Dot pHAT. With a little Python magic behind the scenes, [MSG] is able to display things like the system temperature, time, and battery percentage even when the LCD is powered down.

In a post on the aptly-named Cyberdeck Cafe, [MSG] talks about how seeing the VirtuScope built by [bootdsc] inspired him to start working towards his own personal deck, and where he hopes to take the idea from here. The unique USB expansion bay behind the screen holds particular promise, and it sounds like a few add-on modules are already in the works. But of course, it wouldn’t be a true cyberdeck if it wasn’t constantly being improved and redesigned. Come to think of it, that makes at least two rules to live by in this community.

Templateize Your Timetable With EPaper Templates

To date, e-paper technology has been great for two things, displaying static black and white text and luring hackers with the promise of a display that is easy on the eyes and runs forever. But poor availability of bare panels has made the second (we would say more important) goal slow to materialize. One of the first projects that comes to mind is using such a display to show ambient information like a daily summary weather, train schedules, and calendar appointments. Usually this means rolling your own software stack, but [Christopher Mullins] has put together a shockingly complete toolset for designing and updating such parameterized displays called epaper_templates.

To get it out of the way first, there is no hardware component to epaper_templates. It presupposes you have an ESP32 and a display chosen from a certain list of supported models. A quick search on our favorite import site turned up a wide variety of options for bare panels and prebuilt devices (ESP32 and display, plus other goodies) starting at around $40 USD, so this should be a low threshold to cross.

Once you have the device, epaper_templates provides the magic. [Christopher]’s key insight is that an ambient display is typically composed of groups of semi-static data displayed in a layout that never changes. The only variation is updates to the data which is fully parameterized: temperature is always integer Fahrenheit, train schedules are lists of minutes and hours, etc. Layouts like this aren’t difficult to make, but require the developer to reimplement lots of boilerplate. To make them easy to generate, epaper_templates provides a fully featured web UI to let the user freely customize a layout, then exports it as JSON which the device consumes.

The sample layout configured in the video below

The web UI is shockingly capable, especially for by the standards of the embedded web. (Remember it’s hosted on the ESP32 itself!) The user can place text and configure fonts and styles. Once placed, the text can be set to static strings or tied to variables, and if the string is a timestamp it can be formatted with a standard strftime format string.

To round out the feature set, the user can place images and lines to divide the display. Once the display is described, everything becomes simple to programmatically update. The ESP can be configured to subscribe to certain MQTT topics from which it will receive updates, or if that is too much infrastructure there is a handy REST API which accepts JSON objects containing variables or bitmaps to update on device.

We’re totally blown away by the level of functionality in epaper_templates! Check out the repo for more detail about its capabilities. For a full demo which walks through configuration of a UI with train arrival times, weather, both instant temperature and forecast with icons, and date/time check out the video after the break. Source for the example is here, but be sure to check out examples/ in the repo for more examples.

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Repurposing Large Electronic Price Tags

If you’ve recently braved the pandemic long enough to make a trip to a big box retailer, you may have spotted a few massive e-paper price tags affixed to large items like appliances. These seven inch displays were likely designed to be used in e-readers such as the Kindle, but through some surplus deal, are now shouting out clearance savings on last year’s washing machine. After checking out a particularly good price for a Samsung refrigerator at the local Home Depot, [YodaLogic] got to wondering if they could be bent to the hacker’s will.

Now to be clear, [YodaLogic] didn’t steal any of these tags. It turns out you can pick them up on eBay for less than $15 a pop, or at least that’s what they cost before this article went out. It’s an exceptionally good price when you realize that these displays are actually capable of color…albeit only two. Apparently when the retailer orders the so-called “Chroma 74” tags, they can pick between either yellow or red as the secondary color. While not quite as exciting as a full-color display, it certainly sets them apart from most of the e-paper panels we’ve seen used in DIY projects thus far.

The panel gets mighty close to the HaD color scheme

We’d like to tell you that [YodaLogic] cracked one of these things open and was able to wire it right up to a Pi or microcontroller, but the truth is a bit more complicated. Connecting the Chroma 74’s panel to the control board intended for a similar Waveshare 7.5 inch display didn’t seem to do anything. After some poking and prodding, it became clear that the WFD0750BF19 e-paper panel used in the Chroma needed a custom software profile to bring it to life. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a datasheet available for this particular panel.

By combining what could be gleaned from the datasheets of similar displays with a bit of experimentation, [YodaLogic] came up with a configuration profile that mostly works. It doesn’t seem like the yellow is as vibrant as it should be, and a refresh can take as long as 20 seconds, but it’s certainly a start. Perhaps the code can be tightened up with some input from the community, or even better, maybe somebody out there knows where we can get our hands on the datasheet for this panel.

While we’ve started to see more projects use e-paper displays, their high price still keeps many hackers away. Being able to repurpose cheap hardware like this could really spur some interesting development, so we’re excited to see [YodaLogic] put the finishing touches on this project and opened it up to a wider audience.