Science 3 mins read

Electronic Sticky Note Uses Ambient Light to Power Itself

Microsoft researchers along with UbiComp lab, UW, Seattle, have developed a photovoltaic, tiny display or electronic sticky note powered by ambient light.

Jannoon028 | Shutterstock.com

Jannoon028 | Shutterstock.com

Unlike other, smaller high-resolution displays, electronic ink displays require 35 times less energy to display text and images. Photovoltaic panels use ambient light to power the device and the fact that it reads much like a piece of paper makes the display much easier on the eyes than traditional monitors. Built to be compact and portable, e-ink displays have the advantage of being lightweight, durable and energy efficient.

Electronic ink, or e-ink, displays contain capsules full of negatively charged black microparticles and positively charged white microparticles. Capsules are arranged between transparent sheets of glass or flexible plastic. Each sheet is equipped with a semiconductor circuit.

E-ink is already currently used in e-book readers, tablets, watches, smart cards, and electronic labels. Now, Microsoft engineers have designed a new type of tiny display that operates on e-ink technology.

Microsoft Research, the R&D branch of the tech giant’s Redmond, Washington Microsoft campus in collaboration with the UbiComp lab at the University of Washington, Seattle presented a working prototype of an electronic sticky note.

“The device is capable of updating itself every 1 to 25 minutes depending on lighting conditions.”

Electronic Sticky Note: Computer Monitor or Desk Plant?

Researchers presented the paper “Exploring the Design Space for Energy-Harvesting Situated Displays” during the User Interface Software and Technology conference and have also posted a demonstration of their device on Youtube.

“What we imagine,” said research team member Tobias Grosse-Puppendahl, “is that our technology could be used just like a Post-It note.”

Unlike conventional screens that emit light, the team’s prototype is a reflective screen that doesn’t just absorb ambient light – it’s powered by it.

The display makes use of ambient and artificial light thanks to energy-harvesting photovoltaic cells. Thus, the device never needs to be recharged, making the technology more similar to a plant than a computer.

The thin black-and-white display allows the user to manually change the images or notes displayed via a low-energy Bluetooth based application. Otherwise, the display will update automatically based on user settings (the device is capable of updating itself every 1 to 25 minutes depending on lighting conditions).

The solar powered sticky note can also be synchronized with other systems and apps including weather forecasts, current temperatures, bus route timetables and other continually updated information streams.

Cost-Effective, Convenient and no Emissions

This photosynthesizing display combines the convenience of modern electronics with the energy efficiency of next-gen innovation.

Devices like this display that don’t require charging and use ambient energy have the potential to radically reduce energy bills and overhead for office spaces and businesses, and are helping to change the view that energy efficiency requires sacrificing utility.

What’s more, eco-displays are already inspiring innovators to create more low-energy devices.

For example, at the EmTech MIT 2016, University of Washington assistant professor Shyam Gollakota recently revealed a contact lens capable of connecting to WI-FI despite not containing a power supply.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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