The low energy, pixel-addressable display does not only receive information from a smartphone via NFC but is also entirely wirelessly powered through what the team calls the NFC Wireless Identification and Sensing Platform, a software defined passive 13.56 MHz RFID tag.
Using inductive coupling, the tag harvests the power from an NFC transaction using a special microchip before storing it in a tiny 1mAh battery which can then be used to power the black and white e-ink display as it changes. Compared to a segmented display, a pixel-addressable display requires substantial energy to update, say the researchers.
A video shows how the NFC-Wisp tag can be used:
In a research paper to be presented at the Ubicomp 2013 conference in Zurich next month the team says the bistable e-ink display allows for "a commercial off-the-shelf NFC-enabled phone that generates RF signals carrying both the information and energy necessary to update the display. After the update is complete, the display continues to present the information with no further power input."
Taiwanese RFID specialist Jogtek has previously demonstrated a batteryless shelf-edge label that uses a segmented e-ink display and NFC, while British Airways is to offer an electronic luggage tag that works on similar principles from next year.