Using WiFi epapers to showcase digital art

Recently I stepped upon superrare.co that is a marketplace to collect and trade unique digital artworks. This and the fact that I follow Josh Katzenmeyer that is a member of this network made more aware of the fact I enjoy watching this artworks very much and got me interested about it.

My idea is very simple. Is just to make a gallery using big epaper displays or a combination of them with traditional prints. Maybe in different sizes and with different technologies (3 color, with and without gray-scales, etc)

This is just a very raw idea of how such an exposition room would like.
The main point is that is pure digital technology to showcase digital art. But also it’s adventage is that a small room with 5 epapers like we can see in the bottom of the picture, could have “rotating contents” that are updated every 4 or 5 minutes, giving the visitors the oportunity to see different artworks depending on how long time they want to stay in the room. Or even the invitation to press a button to load the next image.

Exposition room with mixed prints and epaper displays
Preview of a render in a 12.48 inches black/white 1304 x 984 pixels screen. Showcased art is Measured confinement and you can buy the original in superrare website.
Epaper model is a Waveshare electronics product but the display itself is manufactured by Good Display

Now as cool as the idea may sound there are a couple of limitations:

  • It’s not possible or limited to render animations since most maker big displays do not support partial updates.
    Or if they do is not well documented how to do it. However in smaller displays is supported and will be possible to do something like a GIF
  • Only black&white have 3 grays like the model exposed in the video
  • There are 3 color displays, in red or yellow versions, but those do not have grayscales neither partial updates
  • There is a 7 colors one but it’s too small and not documented enough for me to use it at the moment

And known advantages can be:

  • WiFi epapers so the content could be controlled from anywhere. A version that has an SD card reader in the controller is also feasible
  • Very low consumption so the installation can be cable-less provided it has a battery that has enough power to sustain the refreshes for days
  • Enable a user interaction. Example with a push Button, sensors like movement or for example infrared reading visitor temperature and interacting in some way with the visitors of the exposition.

C++ Firmware and WiFi microcontrollers to send the image buffer

I’ve been researching and making my own controllers for this epapers, based in the ESP32 family, as a component for Espressif ESP-IDF framework. The name of the component is Cale-IDF and this the WiKi entry for the epaper showcased in the video.

In order to support a dynamic generation of Bitmaps I created also an image generator Webservice that is called CALE.es and let’s you compose images with a simple admin backend.