[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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Hackaday Prize Entry: PaperBack Desktop ePaper Monitor

When we announced the Hackaday Prize with its Best Product category, [PK] polled his wife and co-workers about the idea of making a desktop monitor using 6″ 800×600 ePaper, which he has since built and calls the PaperBack. One such requirement for a monitor is to be able to connect to it using one of the usual desktop methods: VGA, DVI or HDMI. Given his previous experience making his own VGA card for the 2015 prize, he went with that. HDMI is in the works.

But it ended up being more than a desktop monitor. He first made a power and breakout board that a VGA input board would eventually connect to. To test it, he included a socket for plugging in an ESP32. With only one bodge he had the Hackaday logo displayed on the ePaper. He also now had the option of using it as a wireless internet connected display.

Moving on to VGA support, [PK] made a VGA input board using the MST9883 chip, which does the A/D conversion of the VGA RGB graphics signal and also recovers a pixel sampling clock from the HSYNC. His new VGA ePaper monitor has to identify itself to the VGA source, telling it dimensions, resolution and so on. This is called the EDID and was handled by the addition of an Atmel ATmega328 to the board. To finish it off, an LCMXO1200C FPGA does the high-speed conversions with the help of a 4 MBit SRAM framebuffer.

His very first test involved simply displaying the Hackaday logo using the ESP32, but now with the VGA input board he has it displaying Doom. Since it’s using ePaper it has only a 1-second refresh rate but it’s hard to come up with a more awesome way to proved that it works. He can also unplug it at any time and walk away with the latest screenshot intact. See it for yourself in the video 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: WiFi ePaper

[Frank Buss] designed an electronic version of a sticky note: a WiFi enabled, solar-powered ePaper, with magnets embedded in the casing. It’s based on the new ESP32, and the idea is that you can update it via your smart-phone or over the internet via a cloud app to show any message you want. Being an ePaper display, the power consumption is greatly reduced, at least if you are cautious using the ESP32.

The final version plans to poll a server once per hour to get a new image to display. Depending on the final size and battery constraints, our guess is that it could probably poll often. Of course, that depends on the available charging light, which is usually reduced when you are inside the house. The project also has 3 buttons to provide user input, which can be customized for a wide array of actions, as [Frank Buss] notes:

For example install it on the fridge of your grandma, who might not be very proficient in using modern internet connected devices. Then you can send her birthday wishes, or remind her of schedules. And the buttons could be used as a feedback channel, like confirming a date. Or when installed at a public place, it can act as a bulletin board. Or it can be used for a modern form of internet connected graffiti or other art projects. The possibilities are infinite.

This project immediately reminds us of the recent SHA2017 badge we covered some days ago, with a bigger display and solar panel or the e-ink wifi display project from last year.

The latest version is being tested with a black/white/red ePaper display, as we can see in the video:

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Hackaday Links: April 16, 2017

Guess what’s going on at the end of the month? The Vintage Computer Festival Southeast is happening April 29th and 30th. The event is being held at the Computer Museum of America and is, by all accounts, a really cool show.

Walk into any package sorting facility or Amazon fulfillment center and you’ll find a maze of conveyor belts, slides, and ramps that move boxes from one point to another. Conveyor belts are so last century, so here’s a fleet of robots.

In 2017, the CITES treaty — an international treaty for the protection of endangered species — changed a lot. While the original treaty protected individual species, in 2017, enforcement of this treaty on tropical hardwoods changed to an entire genus. This is a problem when it comes to rosewood; previously only Dalbergia nigra was covered under CITES, now the entire Dalbergia genus is covered. This sucks for guitar makers, but a Dutch guy is making guitars out of newspaper. We’re probably looking at some sort of micarta thing here, but it sounds acceptable.

Where did Apple’s Spinning Beach Ball of Death come from? 1984, or thereabouts. The ubiquitous Apple ‘wait’ cursor is from the first versions of the Macintosh Toolbox, and it has remained mostly unchanged all this time. This is Apple Wait, a demonstration of this first spinny ball of death. It’s a Raspberry Pi connected to an Apple monochrome monitor that just displays a spinny wait logo. Check out the video.

How do you make strips of RGB LEDs turn a corner? Wire, usually. Here are some corner pieces for WS2812B LED strips. It looks very handy if you’re building a gigantic RGB LED matrix.

SHA2017 is an outdoor hacker conference that’s happening this summer. They’re working on a badge, but they need some help. They’re looking for some funding for their ESP32-powered, touch controller, sunlight-readable ePaper badge. If you have a job that likes to sponsor stuff like this, it’s a worthy cause.

Hackaday Links: December 25th, 2016

You should be watching the Doctor Who Christmas special right now. Does anyone know when the Resturant at the End of the Universe spinoff is airing?

We have a contest going on right now. It’s the 1 kB Challenge, a contest that challenges you to do the most with a kilobyte of machine code. The deadline is January 5th, so get cracking.

A few years ago, [Kwabena] created the OpenMV, a Python-powered machine vision module that doesn’t require a separate computer. It’s awesome, and we’re going to have his talk from the Hackaday SuperConference up shortly. Now the OpenMV is getting an upgrade. The upgrades include an ARM Cortex M7, more RAM, more heap for less money. Here’s a link to preorder.

There ain’t no demoscene party like an Amtrak demoscene party because an Amtrak demoscene party lasts ten hours.

E-paper displays are fancy, cool, and low-power. Putting them in a project, however, is difficult. You need to acquire these display modules, and this has usually been a pain. Now Eink has a web shop where you can peruse and purchase epaper display modules and drivers.

[Kris] built a pair of STM32L4 dev boards that are easily programmed in the Arduino IDE. Now he’s putting these boards up on Kickstarter. The prices are reasonable – $15 for the smaller of the pair, and $25 for the bigger one. Remember, kids: ARM is the future, at least until RISC-V takes over.

This is how you do holiday greeting cards.

Didn’t get what you want for Christmas?  Don’t worry, Amazon still has A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates in stock. It’s also available on audible dot com. Sometimes we don’t have time to sit down and read a million random digits but with audible dot com, you can listen to a million random digits in audio book format. That’s audible dot com please give us money.

northkoreaThis is the last Hackaday Links post of the year, which means it’s time for one of our most cherished traditions: reviewing our readership in North Korea.

It’s been a banner year for Hackaday in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. The readership has exploded in 2016, with a gain of nearly 300%. To put that in perspective, in 2015 we had thirty-six views from North Korea across every page on Hackaday. In 2016, that number increased to one hundred and forty.

That’s a phenomenal increase and a yearly growth that is unheard of in the publishing industry. We’d like to tip our hat to all our North Korean reader, and we’re looking forward to serving you in 2017.

Compact ePaper Business Card

Is your business card flashy? Is it useful in a pinch? Do they cost $32 each and come with an ePaper display? No? Well, then feast your eyes on this over-the-top business card with an ePaper display by [Paul Schow]. Looking to keep busy and challenge himself with a low-power circuit in a small package, he set about making a business card that can be updated every couple of months instead of buying a new stack whenever he updated his information.

Having worked with ePaper before, it seemed to be the go-to option for [Schow] in fulfilling the ultra-low power criteria of his project — eventually deciding on a 2″ display. Also looking to execute this project at speed, he designed the board in KiCad over a few hours after cutting it down to simply the power control, the 40-pin connector and a handful of resistors and capacitors. In this case, haste made waste in the shape of the incorrect orientation of the 40-pin connector and a few other mistakes besides. Version 2.0, however, came together as a perfect proof-of-concept, while 3.0 looks sleek and professional.

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