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!]

Winners Of The Take Flight With Feather Contest

It’s hard to beat the fidelity and durability of printed text on paper. But the e-paper display gets pretty close, and if you couple it will great design and dependable features, you might just prefer an e-reader over a bookshelf full of paperbacks. What if the deal is sweetened by making it Open Hardware? The Open Book Project rises to that challenge and has just been named the winner of the Take Flight with Feather contest.

This e-reader will now find its way into the wild, with a small manufacturing run to be put into stock by Digi-Key who sponsored this contest. Let’s take a closer look at the Open Book, as well as the five other top entries.

Continue reading “Winners Of The Take Flight With Feather Contest”

Agora, A Hackable E-Paper Clock

[Daniel Zilinec] appreciates the aesthetics of e-paper and thought it would make a great clock. 

The natural appearance of e-paper certainly appeals to a lot of hackers. We’ve seen everything from typewriters to trackers for imaginary money. The Agora clock is designed to be battery powered,;a classic night-stand alarm clock. With its wide angle viewing and even response to light it will be easily viewable even at dawn.

He saves the user a lot of time by designing the PCB up-front. It’s got a charging IC built in, back-light LEDs and pads for buttons. All you need to do is print out the case from the available thingiverse files and assemble. The schematic and firmware are available for the more enterprising hacker to work out as well.

There’s also a somewhat puzzling watch version of the clock. It would certainly be a fashion statement to wear one of these. Still, the is something nice about the organic feel and possible fonts that make it worth considering.

PaperLedger: An E-Ink Cryptocurrency Ticker

For a long time it seemed like e-ink displays were outside the reach of us lowly hackers, as beyond the handful of repurposed Kindles that graced these pages, we saw precious few projects utilizing this relatively exotic display. But that’s changed over the last couple of years, and we’re thrilled to start seeing hackers bend this incredible technology to their will.

A perfect example is PaperLedger, an entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize by [AIFanatic]. This wireless device is designed to display the current price of various cryptocurrencies on its 2.9-inch e-ink screen and provide audible price alerts with its built-in speaker. It even has a web portal where users can configure the hardware or view more in-depth price information.

The PaperLedger is based on the TTGO T5 V2.2 ESP32, but it looks like [AIFanatic] is in the process of spinning up a new board for the MIT licensed project to address some nagging issues for this particular application. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there are any pictures of the new board yet, but a description of the changes on the Hackaday.IO page shows that most of the work seems to be going into improving support for running on batteries.

Even if you’re not interested in cryptocurrency, the PaperLedger looks like a fantastic little e-ink monitor for pretty much anything else you’d like to keep a close eye on. The GPLv3 licensed firmware is available on the project’s GitHub page, so expanding or completely changing the device’s functionality shouldn’t be too tricky for anyone with a desire to do so and a working knowledge of C++.

We’ve seen several projects using the various TTGO boards that mate an ESP32 with a display at this point, and it looks like a great platform to check out if you want to push some data to a little WiFi screen with the minimum amount of hassle.

Open Hardware E-Ink Display Just Needs An Idea

Its taken awhile, but thanks to devices like the Amazon Kindle, the cost of e-ink displays are finally at the point where mere mortals such as us can actually start using them in our projects. Now we’ve just got to figure out how to utilize them properly. Sure you can just hook up an e-ink display to a Raspberry Pi to get started, but to truly realize the potential of the technology, you need hardware designed with it in mind.

To that end, [Mahesh Venkitachalam] has created Papyr, an open hardware wireless display built with the energy efficiency of e-ink in mind. This means not only offering support for low-energy communication protocols like BLE and Zigbee, but keeping the firmware as concise as possible. According to the documentation, the end result is that Papyr only draws 22 uA in its idle state.

So what do you do with this energy-sipping Bluetooth e-ink gadget? Well, that part is up to you. The obvious application is signage, but unless you’re operating a particularly well organized hackerspace, you probably don’t need wireless dynamic labels on your part bins (though please let us know if you actually do). More likely, you’d use Papyr as a general purpose display, showing sensor data or the status of your 3D printer.

The 1.54 inch 200×200 resolution e-ink panel is capable of showing red in addition to the standard grayscale, and the whole thing is powered by a Nordic nRF52840 SoC. Everything’s provided for you to build your own, but if you’d rather jump right in and get experimenting, you can buy the assembled version for $39 USD on Tindie.

Using E-Paper Displays For An Electronic Etch A Sketch

Electronic things are often most successful when they duplicate some non-electronic thing. Most screens, then, are poor replacements for paper. Except, of course, for E-paper. These displays have high contrast even in sunlight and they hold their image even with no power. When [smbakeryt] was looking at his daughter’s Etch-a-Sketch, he decided duplicating its operation would be a great way to learn about these paper-like displays.

You can see a video of his results and his findings below. He bought several displays and shows them all, including some three-color units which add a single spot color. The one thing you’ll notice is the displays are slow which is probably why they haven’t taken over the world.

The displays connect to a Raspberry Pi and many of the displays are meant to mount directly to a Pi. The largest display is nearly six inches and some of the smaller displays are even flexible. It appears the three color displays were much slower than the ones that use two colors. To combat the slow update speeds, some of the displays can support partial refresh.

The drawing toy uses optical encoders connected to the Raspberry Pi. The Python code is available. Even if you don’t want to duplicate the toy, the comparison of the displays is worth watching. We were really hoping he’d included an accelerometer to erase it by shaking, but you’ll have to add that feature yourself. By the way, in the video, he mentions the real Etch-a-Sketch might work with magnets. It doesn’t. It is an aluminum powder that sticks to the plastic until a stylus rubs it off.

We’ve seen these displays many times before, of course. If you are patient enough, you can even use them as Linux displays.

Continue reading “Using E-Paper Displays For An Electronic Etch A Sketch”

E-ink Typewriter Is Refreshingly Slow

It’s pretty hard to use the internet to complete a task without being frequently distracted. For better or worse, there are rabbit holes at every turn and whilst exploring them can be a delight, sometimes you just need to focus on a task at hand. The solution could be in the form of distraction-blocking software, razor-sharp willpower, or a beautifully crafted modern “typewriter”. The constraint and restriction of a traditional typewriter appealed to [NinjaTrappeur], but the inability to correct typos and share content online was a dealbreaker. A hybrid was the answer, with a mechanical keyboard commanding an E-ink display driven by a Raspberry Pi.

The main point of interest in this build is the E-ink screen. Though it’s easy to acquire theses displays in small sizes, obtaining a screen greater than four inches proved to be a challenge. Once acquired, driving the screen over SPI was easy, but the refresh rate was horrific. The display takes three seconds to redraw, and whilst [NinjaTrappeur] was hoping to implement a faster “partial refresh”, he was unable to read the appropriate values from the onboard flash to enable manual control of the drawing stages. Needless to say, [NinjaTrappeur] asks if people have had success driving these displays at a more usable rate, and would love to hear from you if so.

Some auxiliary hacks come in the form of terminal emulator adaptation, porting the E-ink screen library from C++ to C, and capturing the keyboard input. A handmade wooden case finishes it off.

If it’s old-school typewriters that float your boat, we’ve got you covered: this solenoid-actuated typewriter printer eventually became a musical instrument, and this daisy wheel machine produces ASCII art from a live camera.

[Via Boing Boing]