Will 2020 (Finally) Be The Year Of Electronic Paper?

These days paper is being phased out whenever possible, and while we’re still far from being a completely digital society, the last decade or two has seen a huge reduction in the amount of paper the average person deals with on a daily basis. At the very least, we seem a lot closer to a future without the printed page than we are flying cars or any of the other concepts we generally associate with the far-flung future.

That said, there’s still something undeniably appealing about reading on paper. The idea of squirting ink on a piece of thin wood might seem increasingly archaic to us, but it sure does look nice when you hold it in your hand. Which is exactly why so much effort has been put into recreating the look of printed paper in electronic form; we all love the experience of paper, but the traditional execution doesn’t align itself particularly well with modern sensibilities.

Of course electronic “eReaders”, most notably the Kindle line from Amazon, have gone a long way towards making this a reality. At least for reading books, anyway. But what about magazines, newspapers, or even the lowly notebook we keep by the bench to jot down measurements or ideas? A PDF datasheet, with graphics where the grey tones matter? Being able to carry a whole bookshelf worth of novels in your bag is incredible, but despite what science fiction has promised us since 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’re still consuming plenty of media off of dead trees.

But that might be changing soon. This year will see the release of two tablets that promise to deliver an experience much closer to reading and writing on traditional paper than anything we’ve seen previously. They certainly aren’t cheap, and it’s too early to tell how much is just hype, but these devices could end up being an important step towards the paperless future we’ve been dreaming of.

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Giant Analog CO2 Meter Sweeps Away Doubt

Most of us are aware that trees turn CO₂ into oxygen, but we’d venture to guess that many people’s knowledge of this gas ends there. Is it feast or famine out there for the trees? Who can say? We admire [rabbitcreek]’s commitment to citizen science because he’s so focused on making it easy for people to understand their environment. His latest offering, a giant analog CO₂ meter, might be our favorite so far.

The brains of the operation is an Adafruit Feather Adalogger. It reads the CO₂ sensor that’s mounted close to the business end of the nautilus, and becomes the quill that writes the CO₂ value to a FeatherWing e-ink screen. For the giant needle, this lovely meter uses one of those fiberglass poles you mark your driveway with so you can find it under a blanket of snow. The needle is counter-balanced with washers encased in printed plastic.

As you can see in the GIF, there’s a decent delay between the CO₂ blast and the needle response — we like to imagine the CO₂ spiraling slowly through the nautilus like a heavy, ill wind on its way to gravely move the needle.

Want a way to monitor air quality that’s a bit more discreet? Slip this portable meter into your pocket.

Live Apollo 11 Transcript On EInk Display

There are few moments in history that have ever been recorded in more detail or analyzed as thoroughly as the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. Getting three men to our nearest celestial neighbor and back in one piece took a lot of careful planning, and recording every moment of their journey was critical to making sure things were going smoothly. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of man’s first steps off our world, these records give us a way to virtually tag along with Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins.

As part of the 50th anniversary festivities at the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia, [Andrew] created a badge that would let him wear a little piece of Apollo 11. Using an ESP32 and an eInk screen, it replays the mission transcript between the crew and ground control in real-time. It’s a unique way to experience the mission made possible by that meticulous data collection that’s a hallmark of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

[Andrew] was inspired by the “Apollo 11 In Real Time” website, but rather than pulling the content from the Internet, he’s loaded the mission transcripts onto the ESP32’s SPIFFS filesystem as a CSV file. Not that the badge is completely offline, it does need to connect to the Internet (via a hotspot on his phone) so it can keep its internal clock synchronized with NTP. Keeping everything local does reduce power consumption compared to streaming it from the Internet, but he admits that otherwise he didn’t give much thought to energy efficiency and there’s definitely some room for improvement.

The LILYGO TTGO board he’s using combines the ESP32 with a 2.13 inch eInk display, in a formfactor not unlike the Badgy we’ve covered previously. He was able to find a STL for a 3D printed case on Thingiverse which he modified to fit a battery. Unfortunately the original model was released under a license that prevents him from distributing his modified version, but it doesn’t sound too difficult to replicate if you’re interested in building your own running ticker of humanity’s greatest adventure.

Hackaday Links: June 3, 2018

All the Radio Shacks are dead. adioS, or something. But wait, what’s this? There are new Radio Shacks opening. Here’s one in Idaho, and here’s another in Claremore, Oklahoma. This isn’t like the ‘Blockbuster Video in Nome, Alaska’ that clings on by virtue of being so remote; Claremore isn’t that far from Tulsa, and the one in Idaho is in a town with a population of 50,000. Are these corporate stores, or are they the (cool) independent Radio Shacks? Are there component drawers? Anyone want to take a field trip and report?

A few years ago, [cnxsoft] bought a Sonoff WiFi switch to control a well pump. Despite this being a way to control the flow of massive amounts of water with an Internet of Things thing, we’re still rocking it antediluvian style, and for the most part this WiFi-connected relay worked well. Until it didn’t. For the past few days, the switch wouldn’t connect to the network, so [cnxsoft] cracked it open to figure out why. There was one burnt component, and more than one electrocuted insect. Apparently, an ant bridged two pins, was shortly electrocuted, and toasted a resistor. It’s a bug, a real bug, in an Internet of Things thing.

eInk is coming to license plates? Apparently. Since an eInk license plate already includes some electronics, it wouldn’t be much to add some tracking hardware for a surveillance state.

Hold up, it’s a press release about crypto hardware. No, not that crypto, the other crypto. Asus has announced a new motherboard that is capable of supporting twenty graphics cards. This isn’t a six-foot-wide motherboard; it’s designed especially for coin mining, and for that, the graphics cards really only need a PCIe x1 connection. The real trick here is not using PCIe headers, and instead piping everything over vertical-mount USB ports. Yes, this is a slight cabling nightmare. So, you still think the early 80s with fluorinert waterfalls and Blinkenlights that played Game of Life was the pinnacle of style in computer hardware? No, this is it right here.

Here’s a book you should readIgnition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John Drury Clark is a fantastic book about how modern liquid rocket fuel came to be. Want to know why 60s cartoons and spy movies always referenced a ‘secret rocket fuel formula’ when kerosene and liquid oxygen work just fine? This is that. Back when we covered it, the book, used, on Amazon, cost $500. It’s now in print again and priced reasonably. It’s on the Inc. 9 Powerful Books Elon Musk Recommends list, so you know it’s good. Thanks, [Ben] for sending this one in on the tip line.

[Ben Krasnow] Hacks E-Paper For Fastest Refresh Rate

[Ben Krasnow] is known for his clear explanations alongside awesome hardware, being one of only a few hackers who owns an electron microscope. This time he’s explaining how E-paper works while modifying the firmware of a 4.2 inch E-paper module to get a higher refresh rate. As for the awesome hardware, he also analyses the signals going to the E-paper using an ultra-fancy loaner oscilloscope.

E-paper explanation diagram
E-paper explanation diagram

After starting out with a demo of the firmware in action before and after his modification, he explains how the E-paper works. The display is made up of many isolated chambers, each containing charged particles in a liquid. For example, the positive particles might be black and the negative might be white. By putting an electric field across each chamber, the white particles would be attracted to one end while the black would be attracted to the other, which could be the end you’re looking at. He also explains how it’s possible to get a third color by using different sized particles along with some extra manipulation of the electric field. And he talks about the issue of burn-in and how to avoid it.

Having given us that background, he then walks us through some of the firmware and shows how he modified it to make it faster, namely by researching various datasheets and subsequently modifying some look-up-tables.

Turning back to the hardware, he shows how he scratches out some traces so that he can attach scope probes. This alone seems like a notable achievement, though he points out that the conductive layer holds up well to his scratching. At that point he analyses the signals while running some demos.

The result is the very informative, interesting and entertaining video which you can watch below.

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Breadboarding With E-Paper

[David Watts] picked up an inexpensive Waveshare e-Paper display. He made a video about using it with a breadboard, and you can see it below.

The E-Paper or E-Ink displays have several advantages. They are low power, they retain their display even without power, and they are very visible in direct light. The downside is they don’t update as fast as some other display technologies.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: An E-Ink Calendar

E-ink displays are becoming almost common in DIY electronics circles, and now we have very capable, low-power microcontrollers, some of which feature some sort of wireless connectivity. Combine these two, and you have the potential for a basic information screen — a low-power device that always displays some sort of relevant information, whether it’s the date or the weather.

For their Hackaday Prize entry, [Wenting] and [Dong] are building an e-ink calendar. It’s a calendar, it displays bitmaps, it can display the time, and with a little more hacking it can display the weather, current traffic, or train schedule. If this were the 90s, we would have called this an information appliance, and it would have blown everyone’s minds.

The current design of this e-ink calendar uses an 800 x 600 pixel display working in 16-level grayscale mode. The processor is an STM32F4, and in a cost-reducing revision, an external SRAM was thrown out and the frame buffer was moved to the internal RAM. The e-ink display is actually pretty quick, allowing for greater than 10 FPS in 1-bit mode.

As with any e-ink project, driving the display is a minor nightmare, but [Wenting] is able to push a few frames per second to the display. That’s good enough for a device that shouldn’t actually change all that much — this is a calendar, after all.