How expensive is it to make a panel that uses e-ink technology? That might depend on how flexible you are. [RBarron] read about reverse engineering point-of-sale shelf labels and found them on eBay for just over a buck apiece. Next thing you know, 20 of them were working together in a single panel.
The panels use RF or NFC programming, normally, but have the capability to use BLE. Naturally you could just address each one in turn, but that isn’t very efficient. The approach here is to use one label as a BLE controller and it then drives the other displays in a serial daisy chain, where each label’s receive pin is set to the previous label’s transmit pin.
That allows a simple piece of code to read incoming messages and process the ones addressed to that label. Anything else just gets sent out the serial port. Only the BLE node has special firmware. At first, we thought each label would need an address and we wondered how it would be set other than having unique firmware for each one since there doesn’t appear to be a handy way to do a hardware-based configuration.
The actual solution is clever. Each message has a hop counter that each node decrements before passing the message along the chain. When the hop count is zero, the message is at its destination. Simple and very easy to configure. In theory, you could replace any of the labels after the first one with any other label and the system would still work correctly.
Even the wiring is clever, with a jig to bend the wire to ensure even spacing of each element on the panel. A laser-cut box finishes the project off nicely. The code is all available on GitHub. We’ve seen these kinds of tags used for things like weather stations. Not to mention conference badges.
TshWatch is a project by [Ivan / @pikot] that he’s been working on for the past two years. [Ivan] explains that he aims to create a tool meant to help you understand your body’s state. Noticing when you’re stressed, when you haven’t moved for too long, when your body’s temperature is elevated compared to average values – and later, processing patterns in yourself that you might not be consciously aware of. These are far-reaching goals that commercial products only strive towards.
At a glance it might look like a fitness tracker-like watch, but it’s a sensor-packed logging and measurement wearable – with a beautiful E-Ink screen and a nice orange wristband, equipped with the specific features he needs, capturing the data he’d like to have captured and sending it to a server he owns, and teaching him a whole new world of hardware – the lessons that he shares with us. He takes us through the design process over these two years – now on the fifth revision, with first three revisions breadboarded, the fourth getting its own PCBs and E-Ink along with a, and the fifth now in the works, having received some CAD assistance for battery placement planning. At our request, he has shared some pictures of the recent PCBs, too!
The Interactive Media Lab at Dresden Technical University has been busy working on ideas for user interfaces with wearable electronics, and presents a nice project, that any of us could reproduce, to create your very own wearable colour epaper display device. They even figured out a tidy way to add touch input as well. By sticking three linear resistive touch strips, which are effectively touch potentiometers, to a backing sheet and placing the latter directly behind the Plastic Logic Legio 2.1″ flexible electrophoretic display (EPD), a rudimentary touch interface was created. It does look like it needs a fair bit of force to be applied to the display, to be detectable at the touch strips, but it should be able to take it.
The rest of the hardware is standard fayre, using an off-the-shelf board to drive the EPD, and an Adafruit Feather nRF52840 Sense board for the application and Bluetooth functionality. The casing is 3D printed (naturally) and everything can be built from items many of us have lying around. The video below shows a few possible applications, including interestingly using the display as part of the strap for another wearable. Here is also is a report on adding interactive displays to smart watches. After all, you can’t have too many displays.
Over the years we’ve seen a variety of interesting pieces of hardware emerging from the folks at Pine64, so it’s always worth a second look when they announce a new product. This time it’s the PineNote, a tablet that packs the same Rockchip RK3566 as used in the company’s Quartz64 single board computers behind a 10.1″ 1404 x 1872 16-tone greyscale e-paper screen.
Fitted with 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 128 GB eMMC flash storage, it will feature the same Linux support as previous Pine64 products, with the slight snag of the display driver not yet being complete for 5.xx kernels. They are thus at pains to point out that this is not a ready-to-go consumer device and that early adopters will be expected to write code rather than notes on it.
That last sentence sums up Pine64’s offering perfectly, they produce interesting hardware with open-source support, but sometimes the path from hardware release to stable and usable product can be a rocky one. If you’re interested in hardcore hacking of an e-paper tablet, then you may want to be an early adopter. Otherwise, hang back for a while and buy one once some of the bugs have been ironed out. Meanwhile you can see the whole update in the video below; it has a few other things including a nifty keyboard for the PinePhone.
The project started with a 32″ Visionect e-ink display configured as a thin client. With a battery life measured in months thanks to the low power electronics, most of the work here was focused on the backend. A docker container running on a local NAS server collects newspapers via freedomforum.org, formats them to fit the aspect ratio of the display, and serves them up. [Greg] is really trying to preserve the design and thought that goes into the front page of each of these publications as traditional newspaper layouts are often designed by hand.
We love the simplicity and the “it-just-works” feel of this project as there are no buttons, wires, or anything that you need to fiddle with. [Greg] points out that it could also be used for other purposes, and we’d love to see a large calendar such as this e-ink calendar or perhaps even a 32″ version of this e-ink laptop. The code for this is on his GitHub with a video after the break.
Often, the most difficult thing about repurposing surplus hardware is the potential lack of documentation. In the two tags [Dmitry] hacked, not only are the labels not documented at all, one even has an almost-undocumented SoC controlling it. After some poking around and some guesswork, he was able to find connections for both a UART and an SWD debugging interface. Fortunately, the manufacturers left the firmware unprotected, so dumping it was trivial.
Even with the firmware dumped, code for controlling peripherals (especially wireless devices) is often inscrutable. [Dmitry] overcomes this with a technique he calls “Librarification” in which he turns the manufacturer’s firmware into libraries for his custom code. Once he was able to implement his custom firmware, [Dmitry] developed his own code to wirelessly download and display both gray-scale and two-color images.
Even if you’re not interested in hacking e-ink tags, this is an incredible walk-through of how to approach reverse-engineering an embedded or IoT device. By hacking two different tags with completely different designs, [Dmitry] shows how to get into these systems with intuition, guesswork, and some sheer persistence.
Why is Cupertino’s iOS anywhere near a cyberdeck? If a touch screen is better than an LCD panel, a tablet with a full OS behind it must be even better. You might even see this as the natural outgrowth of tablet cases first gaining keyboards and then trackpads. We weren’t aware that either was possible without jailbreaking, but [Alta’s Projects] simply used a lighting-to-USB dongle and a mini USB hub to connect the custom split keyboard to the iPad and splurged on an Apple Magic Trackpad for seamless and wireless multi-touch input.
The video build (after the break) is light on details, but a quick fun watch with a parts list in the description. It has a charming casual feel that mirrors the refreshingly improvisational approach that [Altair’s Projects] takes to the build. We appreciate the nod to this cyberdeck from [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] who’s split keyboard and offset display immediately sprang to mind for us too. The references to an imagined “dystopian future” excuse the rough finish of some of the Dremel cuts and epoxy assembly. That said, apocalypse or not, the magnets mounted at both ends of the linear slide certainly are a nice touch.