NFC technology has so far been used exclusively for the exchange of data between devices, but a newly-developed NFC display tag demonstrates how NFC can be used to provide power to other standalone electronics.

The NFC-WISP E-ink Display Tag has been jointly developed by a team of researchers and students at Intel Labs, the University of Washington and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The device, which is built on the Wireless Identification and Sensing Platform (WISP), pairs NFC connectivity with a low-power E-ink display.

The inclusion of NFC isn't to simply push data to the display. The team, lead by Alanson Sample, have succeeded in wirelessly powering the display through an NFC transaction with an Android phone.

NFC uses inductive coupling to provide power to passive tags. The NFC E-ink display takes advantage of this through its use of a wireless power harvester microchip to store the energy from an NFC transaction in a 0.17mm thick 1mAh battery. This energy is then used to power and update the device's 2.7" display, with enough excess energy captured from the NFC transaction to allow for cycling of images when away from the phone.

One proposed use of this technology is as a companion display for smartphones. The current prototype can display a screenshot from a rooted Android phone, which would enable the user to have quick access to information such as directions, shopping lists or even maps without having to use their phone's power-hungry screen. Approximately 20 images can be stored in the device's 0.5MB of FRAM.

Speaking to NFC Brief, Alanson Sample (Principal Investigator for the NFC E-ink display at Intel) said that "there have been no special modifications to the E-ink display, so the image will last indefinitely". Furthermore, the technology can be scaled up for larger E-ink displays: "transaction time can be traded for larger display size. The longer the user holds the phone to the NFC tag the larger the screen size can be. For practical reasons I would say that E-ink displays larger [than] 10 inches are not feasible. However, the real question becomes how long are users willing to wait to update the E-ink display?"

A completed paper on the project will be published at the 2013 Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing in September. The research team have stated that "our goal is to get the project stable enough and well documented enough to open source the hardware and firmware files by the end of this year."

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6 Responses so far.

  1. DTB says:

    Will we be able to buy these?

  2. Nfcbrief says:

    Not for now. Details on components used will be published next month, so you might be able to make your own, or purchase one from someone who is able to.

  3. Andy says:

    Where can i get one of these prototypes to do some developing or research of my own? Im very big into NFC and i would love to test and attempt to implement this on my own. Thanks

  4. Nfcbrief says:

    We've been told that prototypes of the device aren't available for evaluation for now. The schematics of the device should be available before the end of the year, so you might be able to construct your own.

  5. Will says:

    This is incredibly interesting. Have a few ideas of how this would be useful as a smartphone companion display. Looking forward to them publishing more details.

  6. david says:

    Hello - we're 8 months later - is it possible to acquire a prototype yet?

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