Hacking An NFC E-Paper Display From Waveshare With Mystery MCU

These days e-paper (eInk) displays are everywhere, with stores being one of the largest users of smaller, monochrome versions of these persistent displays. This has also made them a solid target of hackers who seek to not only reverse-engineer and reuse discarded ones, but also ones sold to consumers, with [Aaron Christophel] recently reverse-engineering and flashing custom firmware (GitHub source) to a Waveshare 2.13″ NFC-Powered E-Paper display.

What’s perhaps most notable is how locked-down and devoid of documentation these devices are. The board [Aaron] looked at did not have any markings on the main IC, and Waveshare did not provide more information other than the Android and iOS apps. This led to some matching of various NFC-enabled MCUs with the pinout, with the Chivotech TN2115S2 rolling out as the most likely candidate. This is an 8 MHz Cortex-M0 MCU with not only NFC, but also an energy harvesting feature (up to 300 mW), which is why this e-paper tag can update the display without external power or a battery.

With the Chivotech datasheet being rather sparse, more reverse-engineering needed to be done, which included dumping the firmware and exploring it with Ghidra. During this, the secret key was discovered to make the Flash writeable along with how to control the peripherals and display. With this knowledge it’s now possible to make this tag display update without being limited by manufacturer-supplied tools and software, making it infinitely more useful.

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Low Power Challenge: Keep Plants Green And Clean With E-Paper Smart Tags

There are plenty of reasons to devote oneself to the care of houseplants — after all, a room full of bright, glossy-leaved plants can be a joy to behold, and that’s not even one of the more tangible benefits they bring. But as any green thumb knows, there’s a fine line between a healthy, vibrant plant and one that’s soon to give up the ghost.

If your thumb tends less toward green and more toward the brown and crusty side of things, something like [Jon]’s Smart Plant system might be just the thing for you. These low-power plant tags are built around increasingly ubiquitous e-Paper displays, like the kind you might find in a retail shelf price tag system. The current version of [Jon]’s tags uses a Waveshare 2.9″ tricolor display and a PCB with capacitive probes that stick into the plant’s soil. An ESP32-S lives on the top section of the PCB, along with a 1,000 mAh LiPo pack that’s charged off USB-C. The design includes an optional solar panel for keeping the battery topped off, which may or may not help depending on the plant’s place in your personal jungle.

In addition to the soil moisture sensor, the Smart Tag has an ambient temperature and humidity sensor and a light sensor — everything to keep your plant happy. The power-hungry sensors are only powered on when the Smart Tag pops out of deep sleep; this gives and estimated five to six weeks runtime between charges, without solar charging of course. The e-Paper display shows custom graphics of the plant’s current environmental state, and the same data is also available via Home Assistant thanks to the ESPHome firmware.

These are nice-looking plant tags that can really pull a lot of weight in keeping plants healthy. Check out the other offerings in our Low Power Challenge Contest, and maybe get an entry together yourself.

An e-ink screen mounted on a small white box is flanked by four mechanical keyboard switches. A power cable is routed from the device to a power bank that is mostly out of frame.

DIY E-Reader Has Hot Swap Mechanical Keys

In the early days of e-readers, most devices had physical buttons to turn pages and otherwise navigate the device. [bwkrayb] longed for these halcyon days before touchscreen e-readers and improved on the concept by adding mechanical keyswitches.

By using an Adafruit NeoKey 1×4 as the keyboard interface, the e-reader has four hot-swappable keyboard sockets with built-in LEDs. [bwkrayb] is hoping to use these LEDs to implement a front lighting system in a future revision of the hardware.

The 3.7″ screen displays pages after running an EPUB through ebooklib and Beautiful Soup to generate files that can be used by the Waveshare drivers. Refresh time is reportedly slow, although [bwkrayb] suspects thisĀ  might be due more to the limited power of the Raspberry Pi Zero 2 more than the display itself.

If you want to see some other open e-reader projects we’ve covered, check out the EPub-Inkplate or the Open Book Project.

E-Paper Clock Displays Things In A Battery-Friendly Manner

Clock builds are a hacker staple, and many overflow with power-thirsty LEDs and network features. This build from [mattwach] takes quite the opposite approach, sipping away at its batteries thanks to an e-paper based design.

The build relies on a small Waveshare e-paper module which only requires power when the display is actually changing. When static, the display needs no electricity, and this helps save a great amount of power compared to OLED or LCD-based clocks.

An Atmega328p is the heart of the build, running off a 32.768 KHz clock crystal for a combination of precise timekeeping and low power draw. Time is ensured to be both precise and accurate thanks to a GPS module which allows the clock to sync to satellite time when powered up. It’s a common way to sync clocks to a high-quality time source. Most of the time, though, the GPS is kept powered down to save the 30-100 mA that the module typically draws when in use.

Other features include a temperature, humidity, and pressure sensor, with ambient pressure graphed over time. There’s also notification of sunrise and sunset times, along with the current phase of the moon. It’s all wrapped up in a case tastefully manufactured using 3D printed parts and some wooden CNC-cut panels for a nice rustic look.

With the e-paper display and the microcontroller configured for low-power operation, the clock will run for around 6 months on four AAA cells. Overall, it’s a nifty little clock that will provide the time, date, and other information without the need for an Internet connection. Video after the break.

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Wearable colour eink display in watch format showing additional internal details

Bendable Colour EPaper Display Has Touch Input 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.

Many wearables projects can be found in the HaD archives, including this dubious wearable scope, a method for weaving OLED fibres into garments. Finally, for a good introduction to wearable DIY tech, you could do worse than this Supercon talk from Sophy Wong.

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Inkplate Comes Full Circle, Becomes True Open Reader

Regular readers will likely remember the Inkplate, an open hardware electronic paper development board that combines an ESP32 with a recycled Kindle screen. With meticulous documentation and full-featured support libraries for both the Arduino IDE and MicroPython, the Inkplate makes it exceptionally easy for hackers and makers to write their own code for the high-quality epaper display.

Now, thanks to the efforts of [Guy Turcotte], the Inkplate family of devices can now boast a feature-rich and fully open source ereader firmware. The project started in October of last year, and since then, the codebase has been steadily updated and refined. Nearing its 1.3 release, EPub-InkPlate has most of the functions you’d expect from a modern ereader, and several that might take you by surprise.

For one thing, [Guy] has taken full advantage of the ESP32 microcontroller at the heart of the Inkplate and implemented a web server that lets you manage the reader’s library from your browser. This allows books in EPUB v2 and v3 formats to be uploaded and saved on the Inkplate’s SD card without any special software. There’s currently support for JPG, PNG, BMP, and GIF images, as well as embedded TTF and OTF fonts.

As of this writing EPub-InkPlate supports both the six and ten inch Inkplate variants, and uses the touch pads on the side of the screen for navigation. While it’s on the wishlist for the final 1.3 release, the project currently doesn’t support the Inkplate 6PLUS; which uses the backlit and touch compatible displays pulled from Kindle Paperwhites. With shipments the new 6PLUS model reportedly going out in November, hopefully it won’t be long before its enhanced features are supported.

With the rising popularity of ebooks, it’s more important than ever that we have open hardware and software readers that work on our terms. While they may never compete with the Kindle in terms of units sold, we’re eager to see projects like EPub-InkPlate and the Open Book from [Joey Castillo] mature to the point that they’re a valid option for mainstream users who don’t want to live under Amazon’s thumb.

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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.