back to article Battery-free e-ink screen grabs screenshots from smartphones

University boffins from Washington and Massachusetts joined forces with those at Intel to create an e-ink screen which can catch a smartphone screenshot – without needing a battery. The screen catches energy over the NFC standard, the pay-by-bonk technology built into the latest models of smartphone. That power usually drives …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm sure it will be found useful... I think.

  2. Ambivalous Crowboard
    Thumb Up

    I could think of a ton of uses for this.

    Want the ability to transmit your RememberTheMilk shopping list to the eink panel on your fridge?

    Need to leave a visible message for the spouse on the back of the front door?

    Want to put a map of where you're going on the top of your motorcycle tank bag? Transmit it using the flexible eink panel that's been printed to the top of your tank.

    When this tech goes colour and waterproof, it will open up a whole load of interesting ideas!

    Excited stuff :)

    1. Professor Clifton Shallot

      Re: I could think of a ton of uses for this.

      The fridge thing was the first one I thought of - smartphone app gathers to-do lists, calendar appointments, weather, sports results, my-latest-doodle, whatever, and dumps them on the fridge when you walk past - if the thing could be printed onto a (slightly) flexible sheet with a magnetic backing (that didn't interfere with its operation) cheaply enough then it would be a winner for me.

      1. Eddy Ito

        Re: I could think of a ton of uses for this.

        The typical refrigerator magnet often uses what is called a Halbach array to effectively create a one sided magnet so it shouldn't take much to prevent interference.

        So, did anyone see where we queue up?

  3. CaptainHook

    Interesting as the prototype is, there remains the question of why one would want such a thing.


    Shops need to updated price labels on shelf, at the moment it requires someone walking around changing the paper tickets.

    A system like this would allow a member of staff to change the label just by holding a NFC device next to the label.

    In fact I can think of an even better workflow allowing head office to dictact far more directly what goes on each and every shelve.

    Since it's a NFC device is must have a unique identifier, so when a member of staff holds their handheld device to a shelf it knows exactly which shelf the staff member is looking at. The device can then update the price if needed but it could also change the label to an entirely different product indicating that the shelf needs to have all the jars of tomato sauce removed and restocked with tins of Christmas Pudding.

    I've just removed all the shop floor managers need to organise stuff, their only role now is for staff 'motivation'

    1. monkeyfish

      If you got the printed e-ink as the article suggests, you could put it on a t-shirt. Your own custom image on your shirt, instantly changeable as you want it.. That would be pretty cool.

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    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Good thinking, CaptainHook

      In fact, any situation where a sign of some kind needs updating, this is a possible solution.

      I wonder if those e-Ink displays come in car number plate size?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good thinking, CaptainHook

        > I wonder if those e-Ink displays come in car number plate size?

        I can think of many applications for that :P

        - toll bridges

        - car parks

        - bank raids

        ... this list is endless.

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Agreed the screenshot is just to demonstrate effectively random content. The principle will be of great use where you want autonomous devices with securely updatable display information.

    5. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: why one would want such a thing.

      I see uses where there is need for a display that can be changed but infrequently and either doesn't have local power or it is not economic to provide power, such as you observed with respect to shop shelves pricing information. Hence I suspect it's main use will be for advertising spaces. Obviously this will probably really take off when e-ink (or equivalent low power technology) supports colour and A4~A3 size displays become very cheap.

      I can't think of any use cases where a user would want use this to lift details from a display as this is already catered for through camera's and QR codes.

    6. Robert Helpmann??

      Interesting Prototype

      A system like this would allow a member of staff to change the label just by holding a NFC device next to the label.

      ... thus allowing teenagers to leave any manner of message on the store shelves using their smart phones. It should make for interesting reading.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting Prototype

        Restaurant menu displays...maybe the menus on the table if it can be made cheaply enough. Today's 'to do' lists for small teams at work. Changing the sell-by dates for dodgy supermarkets.

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  5. Charles 9

    I could see a potential use for this in retail. I know some stores that rely on electronic price displays on their shelves. Right now, they employ LCD numeric displays and button batteries, but a changeover to a programmable e-Ink display could simplify things, increase versatility (now you can change the description as well as the price) and reduce maintenance costs (no more button batteries).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Hacking opportunity

      Imagine the fun hacking the prices on e-ink price tags!

      "1 million pounds for Weetabix? I suppose the 1p a bottle of Laphroig *nearly* makes up for it..."

      1. Mystic Megabyte

        Re: Hacking opportunity

        You can keep your Laphroig, I'll settle for Old Poulteney :)

  6. pyrrhic-loss

    Hmm, my first thought was a new idea for a business card... too much American Psycho

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  8. M Gale

    A screen for pennies?

    That's your product right there. Sell that thing and use the money to refine, and find something useful for the passive display tech.

  9. Paul Webb

    You won't get a shopping list on your fridge door

    You'll get an advert for a special offer on an item you bought previously but have no intention of ever buying again.

  10. Purlieu


    So you can take screenshots off passers-by, does GCHQ know about this.

    Why not use your actual smartphone to steal screenshots from passers-by.

    I suppose there's already an "app" for that.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "the smartphone transmits 200mW of energy: 17.7mW of that gets picked up by the reading coil of which 8.35mW is consumed in processing the NFC communications, leaving 9.4mW to spare"

    Reading that is much more fun if you imagine those being capital 'M's.

  12. Dreamwords

    Secondary Smartphone Screen

    By making a replacement back cover or building it into a protective case, we could have apps updating information we can glance at without unlocking the phone, wasting the battery and suffering glare from the sun. This can be sold as an add-on without needing to tap into the phone innards.

    1. frank ly
      Thumb Up

      Re: Secondary Smartphone Screen

      I do use my Android for a shopping list (among other uses) by using a note-widget on the lock screen. This would save me the trouble of having to turn it on then off again every time my short term memory failed me (often). You could also use it for a map (if high enough resolution) for quick reference during a car journey.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    External e-ink screen for e-reading

    I've almost retired my e-reader, because my big-screen smart phone does all that, and I don't want to carry two devices.

    But, in bright sunlight, I'd really like an extra, e-ink screen, as a peripheral, for the smartphone, to read e-books..

  14. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    boarding pass and other

    Nowadays you can check in with your company online and get your boarding pass on your phone, which is kinda cool but also a bit of a bummer when the battery dies on you at scan time or when the scanning handset fails to read the phone's screen (which I have witnessed quite often).

    A screen grab on a e-ink device is both less likely to fail at a crucial time and easier to scan.

    Similarly, a lot of venues sent you e-tickets; screen-grab with this and voila, no battery worries...

  15. True Thug


    Yet another way to take screenshots..

  16. sustainergy

    Uses for NFC Display Grabber...

    Are you kidding?!? This means FINALLY an end to the collection of stupid and wasteful business cards or the sweaty fisted 'bump'-ing ten times because it just didn't work right the first time.

    I'm interested to make a smooth metal-backed business card storage that is kept in the pocket with good old trouser heat used to power up the screen so you can exchange digits with boffins at conventions and not need to whip out the Phablet! Give it a nice lil capacitor and solar coating, yer covered for when you haven't got sufficient calories in your pants.

    In the states, more and more stores provide a handheld scanner or phone App to tally the cart, so why not offer price drops on a per-person basis 'at the tag'. I can even see stadium-like animations across the shelving guiding you to your favorite products when the aisles are otherwise bereft of passers-by.

    Anyone hiring a biz-dev pro? Gimmie a shout!

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