PaperTop Laptop

Status: Approved
Name: PaperTop
Objective: The objective of the PaperTop is to explore creating an e-ink laptop using a Raspberry Pi 3B+, Pi-Top and an e-ink panel. Explore what other single board computers could be supported with the chasis. Explore what modifications could be done to the Pi-top and what is and is not possible. Audience: Low-voltage, proof of concept
Timeline: 3/13/21 - 4/13/21
Members: @alexsotodev @scrunch @Earnest open to new members
Contact: contact@alexsoto.dev
URL: None
Hardware: Raspberry Pi 3B+, Pi-Top, E-ink Panel
Looking for: People with experience in:

  • Digital Fabrication
  • E-ink displays functioning / operation
  • DIY/Creatives/Tinker/

Items:

  • Pi-Tops or other SBC’s
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For anyone interested feel free to join our Discord as well. Link: Join EI-2030 Discord Server

Introduction: PaperTop

The objective of the PaperTop is to explore creating an e-ink laptop using a Raspberry Pi 3B+, Pi-Top, and an e-ink panel. Explore what other single-board computers could be supported with the chassis. Explore what modifications to the Pi-top and what is and is not possible.

The first pi-top started as part of an IndieGoGo campaign in 2014. Since then, there have been different iterations of the pi-top. The v1 to v3 of the pi-top is of particular interest since they share a similar design. The pi-top we are using, v2, is available on eBay for about $50-80 dollars; the one shown here was purchased for $30.

Overview

Keyboard and Touchpad

One of the notable features of the pi-top is its keyboard and touchpad. The keyboard has a hinge mechanism allowing you to slide the keyboard a few inches down, exposing its internals.

The keyboard and touchpad, rather than having a proprietary connector, uses a USB interface, allowing you to easily connect it to the Raspberry Pi or any other device. When sliding the keyboard down, there is a significant amount of available space and underneath the keyboard.

Mods

image


The pi-top’s modular design opens up the possibilities for modifying the chassis to make it compatible with many devices.

Behind the laptop, there is an opening for the USB ports and ethernet. With a dremel, we can create a space and add an IO plate that’s 3D printed to support the Raspberry Pi or other SBC’s future iterations. Similarly, this approach applies to the sides of the laptops.

We can re-use the lid’s hinges and re-create the lid so that an eink panel could be fitted and support a range of eink panels. Also, we can substitute the battery for a power bank or another alternative to power the pi and e-ink panel.

Future considerations

  • The available accessories for the Raspberry Pi provide or enhance existing features.
  • Creating a minimal Linux distribution designed for an e-ink panel.
  • Creating a similar design to the pi-top for future working groups.
  • A solar-powered laptop.
  • Dual-use laptop: Include a standard or full-featured Raspberry Pi and a low-power device such as a Pi-Zero or some other microcontroller.

The combination of having a keyboard and mouse with a USB interface, the space and easy access to the internals, the price and availability online, and the possible modifications make the pi-top an appealing starting point for future projects to build an e-ink laptop.

The picture above shows a Dasung Paperlike HD-FT and its two PCBs easily fitting inside of the pi-top, the pi-top is an ideal candidate for this panel.

Next Steps

  • To test the longer FFC cable and molex connector with the Dasung Paperlike HD-FT.
  • Research possible batteries to power Raspberry Pi and e-ink panel.

Links

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Teardown of the Pi-top v3

Block Diagram of the Pi-top v3

Overview: Teardown

I performed a small teardown of the Pi-top to learn more about it and see what’s possible; what follows is an overview of the process and concludes with thoughts and considerations for the next steps.

I first slid out the keyboard and started removing the outer bezel of the keyboard.

Once I was able to remove out the keyboard’s outer bezel, I removed the screws that are located near the hinges to remove the keyboard.

I gently removed the keyboard and noticed that it’s attached via a ribbon cable that connects to where the battery is.

I believe the cable that connects from the battery powers the keyboard/touchpad, and the other ribbon cable on the side connects to the bridge/hub.

The hub that the pi-top created powers the Raspberry Pi using the GPIO pins. The heatsink/cooling system connects to the Pi’s GPIO pins and the connector in the hub. The hub goes on the right where the rails are and connects to the RPI3B+ on the left.

Closing thoughts

The appeal of the pi-top is its open space/availability and the slide-out keyboard/mouse mechanism.

If it’s true that the keyboard/mouse mechanism needs to be powered using the built-in battery because of the connection, then the options/flexibility are reduced since it needs to be connected to the bridge/hub for the battery to charge.

Having the hub does reduce the space available and makes so only certain SBC are compatible with RPI3, NanoPi M4V2, among others.

Workarounds

  • Use male/female adapters (Micro HDMI - HDMI cable, Female USB - Male USB cable, 40p ribbon cable) to make the pi-top compatible with the RPI4 or other SBC’s.
  • Power the keyboard and touchpad through other means, like a power bank, then we wouldn’t have to use the battery that came with the pi-top or the hub.
  • Remove the keyboard/touchpad altogether, use a wireless keyboard with a dongle, and re-use its rails.

The pi-top’s overall design is easy to access; its open chassis has prospects for modding and would be an excellent device for to build-upon if we can address some of the obstacles.

Feedback

I’m open to feedback, suggestions, ideas, or other approaches. You can reach us in our Discord or or comment below.

References


Hi @alexsotodev, pi-top co-founder/CTO here - just wanted to say I absolutely love this project! :smiley: I’d be happy to help support from a technical standpoint if you need any more details than what you can find online, but it seems you’ve made a pretty good start already!

It’s interesting that you mention a solar-powered laptop as a possible use-case, the genesis of pi-top 1 was actually a solar-powered Raspberry Pi laptop powered by supercapacitors! An e-ink display certainly would have increased the 2 minute runtime I had with those supercaps powering an LCD panel :rofl: I posted some info on that here over on our forum if you’re interested :+1:

We have a monthly community meeting on the last Friday of every month called pi-top Sessions, it would be great if you could attend and do a 5-minute talk on PaperTop. Also, you could post this project on our forum as I’m sure our community would love it as much as I do!

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Hi @duwudi! Paper Top core team member Giovanni here - Alex and I have been focusing on two parallel projects- the PiTop for e-paper and my solar laptop idea (low-power OS). Eventually I would like to merge the two when solar power managers like the E-peas AEM10941 or TI BQ25570 and microprocessors can be integrated on the same system on a board. I am really excited about the supercapacitors- I think it’s great that you’ve had that idea since the beginning.

Recently I’ve been researching how to solar power microcontrollers, and I’ve posted my first walkthrough video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=428cgrpPR0w

I’d be happy to talk more about that solar research at the next pi-top Session and, wanted to mention an integrated supercapacitor circuit that I recently saw by CapXX:
https://www.globalspec.com/events/eventdetails?eventId=3299 I would be very interested in developing a hybrid(dual) capacitor solution for the e-paper monitor, and battery solution for the CPU.

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Welcome @duwudi, thank you for taking the time and checking out the project!

We’ve been doing our research and documenting our findings, and we’ll take you up on your offer for technical support.

We are interested in a solar-powered laptop! We did come across some videos about the pi-top initially wanting to create a solar-powered laptop.

Thank you for the invitation! Giovanni and I will attend the pi-top Sessions and be glad to do a short 5-minute talk on the PaperTop!

Also, if you have the capacity, check out our Discord group where we have a #papertop channel :smiley:

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