Take Note: An E-Paper Tablet From Pine64

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.

We’ve mentioned Pine64 a few times over the years, it’s worth noting that their products also lie outside the realm of Linux boxen.

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A Fresh E-Ink Newspaper Delivered Every Morning

[Greg Raiz] recently set out to make it easy to read multiple newspapers in the morning over breakfast. Inspired by a similar project, he built an e-ink newspaper that hangs on his wall, delivering fresh news every ten minutes.

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.

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A Deep Dive Into E-Ink Tag Hacking

Over the last decade or so, e-ink price tags have become more and more ubiquitous, and they’ve now reached the point where surplus devices can be found inexpensively on various websites. [Dmitry Grinberg] found a few of these at bargain-basement prices and decided to reverse engineer and hack them into monochrome digital picture frames.

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.

If you’d like to see some more of [Dmitry]’s excellent reverse-engineering work, take a look at his reverse-engineering and ROM dump of the PokeWalker. If you’re interested in seeing what else e-ink tags can be made to do, take a look at this weather station made from the same 7.4″ e-ink tag.

Overall view of Alta's Projects cyberdeck

Cyberdeck Running On Apple Silicon, Though An A12 Not An M1

[Alta’s Projects] built a two-in-one cyberdeck that not only contains the requisite Raspberry Pi (a zero in this case) but also eschews a dumb LCD and uses an iPad mini 5 for a display.

We need to address the donor case right away. Some likely see this as heresy, and while we love to see vintage equipment lovingly restored, upcycling warms our hearts and keeps mass-produced plastic out of landfills too. The 1991 AST 386SX/20 notebook in question went for $45 on an online auction and likely was never destined for a computer museum.

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.

Alta's Projects Cyberdeck Internal USB Wiring
Internal USB Wiring, Charging Circuit, and Pi Zero

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.

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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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E-Ink Calendar Paves A Path For All

[Martin Fasani] has set out to build a beautiful low power E-Ink Calendar he can hang on his wall. But perhaps more importantly, the work he has done makes it easier for everyone in the future to have a e-ink display. Many battery-powered e-ink projects connect to some server, download a bitmap image, display the new image, and then go into a deep sleep power mode. [Martin’s] project is no different, but it uses a handy microservice that does the conversion and rendering for you.

The firmware for this ESP32/ESP32S2 based calendar is open sourced on GitHub, with a version based on the Arduino framework as well as the native ESP-IDF framework. One particularly fantastic part of the firmware is a C++ component called CalEPD that drives e-paper displays. CalEPD extends the Adafruit_GFX class and is broken out in a separate repo, making it easy to consume on other projects. Since this supports dozens of different e-paper displays, this simplifies the process of building a calendar with different screens. The firmware includes a Bluetooth setup flow from a smartphone or tablet. This means you can quickly configure how often it wakes up, what it queries, and other important features.

The hardware shown in the demo video has a 7.5″ Waveshare screen with 800 x 400 resolution nestled inside a 3D-printed shell. There is also a 5,000 mAh battery with an ESP32 TinyPICO powering the whole system. The TinyPICO was picked for its incredible deep sleep power consumption. All this fits into a frame just 11 mm thick, for which STL files are available. [Martin] continues to work on this calendar display and has recently added support for FocalTech touch panel controllers. We’re excited to see where he takes it next!

This isn’t the first e-ink display project we’ve seen but this is a great reference to build your own. If you need another good starting point, this weather display might give you that little bit of inspiration you need.

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A Free Software OS For The ReMarkable E-Paper Tablet

If you’re looking to rid your day to day life of dead trees, there’s a good chance you’ve already heard of the reMarkable tablet. The sleek device aims to replace the traditional notebook. To that end, remarkable was designed to mimic the feeling of writing on actual paper as closely as possible. But like so many modern gadgets, it’s unfortunately encumbered by proprietary code with a dash of vendor lock-in. Or at least, it was.

[Davis Remmel] has been hard at work porting Parabola, a completely free and open source GNU/Linux distribution, to the reMarkable. Developers will appreciate the opportunity to audit and modify the OS, but even from an end-user perspective, Parabola greatly opens up what you can do on the device. Before you were limited to a tablet UI and a select number of applications, but with this replacement OS installed, you’ll have a full-blown Linux desktop to play with.

You still won’t be watching videos or gaming on the reMarkable (though technically, you would be able to), but you could certainly use it to read and edit documents the original OS didn’t support. You could even use it for light software development. Since USB serial adapters are supported, microcontroller work isn’t out of the question either. All while reaping the considerable benefits of electronic paper.

The only downside is that the WiFi hardware is not currently supported as it requires proprietary firmware to operate. No word on whether or not [Davis] is willing to make some concession there for users who aren’t quite so strict about their software freedoms.

We’ve been waiting patiently for the electronic paper revolution to do more than replace paperbacks with Kindles, and devices like the reMarkable seem to be finally moving us in the right direction. Thankfully, projects that aim to bring free and open source software to these devices mean we won’t necessarily have to let Big Brother snoop through our files in the process.