Why Build a Smart Display When There Are So Many...

A project log for Newt: Always On, Low Power Digital Assistant

An always-on digital assistant that fits on a desk/nightstand/mirror/wall/fridge. Weather, alarm, timer, calendar, habit tracker, to-do list

Darian JohnsonDarian Johnson 03/20/2021 at 00:480 Comments

I'll admit it: I'm lazy. I appreciate hard work... but I don't want to work hard when I don't have to (which is why I don't like eating crawfish... but that's another story). 

More simply put, I want information as quickly as possible with as little effort as possible. Let me explain:

When I wake-up, I usually like to understand the weather before I get dressed. To find the end of day temperature, I have to

  1. Find my phone
  2. Unlock it (either with facial recognition or a passcode)
  3. Find the "weather" button in a sea of icons
  4. Click the button
  5. Scroll to find the weather at the end of the day

That's 15 seconds of work for 2 seconds of reading.

And through I love my Alexa devices (I have 10+ on my home), they aren't much better; it's a 20 second exchange to ask for the weather and have Alexa respond.

What I wanted was a device, centrally located, where I could, with a simple click, get key information (weather, calendar, etc.). 

So, I started looking into existing devices and found that nothing fit exactly what I was looking for.

The DakBoard is a great device, but it's not battery powered... which would restrict it's locations (I couldn't attach it to a bathroom mirror or a fridge door).

Adafruit's MagTag is another great alternative... and was the inspiration for my own design. My only issue with MagTag was the refresh cycle for the eInk display... which would limit the ability to quickly toggle between screens.

Finally, I looked at standard displays on Amazon... and I felt that they weren't as extensible as I wanted. 

So, that lead me to building my own... but before I could start, I needed to understand what the display would do.