Microsoft Research Dips Its Pen In Solar Powered e-Ink Post-It Notes With Data From Your PC Or Smartphone

Microsoft Display

There may come a time when a generation of users views paper-based Post-It notes as relics of a bygone era, and it could happen sooner than you think. Microsoft has already taken a step in that direction by developing a protytpe ultra-lower power display that combines an e-ink screen with photovoltaic energy harvesting and Bluetooth LE wireless technology.

The end result is a Post-It sized display that can be deployed in a number of different places. Depending on the amount of ambient lighting, it can be updated every 1 to 25 minutes by communicating with a PC or smartphone. A user might find that handy for displaying outdoor weather conditions, stock quotes, or other dynamic data sets that are prone to change over time.

Microsoft calls it an "energy-neutral" display while noting that it can run on office lighting alone. You can basically think of it as a solar powered e-reader that's been shrunk.

"What we imagine is that our technology could be used just like a Post-It note," team member Tobias Grosse-Puppendahl tells New Scientist. "But it could be reused, synchronized with notes in other locations, and could be programmed to show up-to-date information, like the weather or the latest bus timetable when you’re due to leave the office."

Solar Display

The current prototypes consist of a flexible solar panel in back that tops off a thin film battery. A regular printed circuit board (PCB) is used as a display substrate. Hidden behind the PCB are pixel drivers, a Bluetooth LE module, and power management circuitry. In the front you'll find a grid of pixel electrodes, which is where the e-ink paper display is bonded. To ensure low power usage, the displays use relatively few large size pixels that are able to be viewed from a distance.

Finally, the components are all laminated together to create sticker-like displays similar to Post-It notes. They can also rest on a desktop if you don't want to stick them on anything.

These displays are still prototypes, though Microsoft has provided hardware design details in case other researchers want to replicate and build upon its work.