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Aleph

It’s Like Mobile Payments, But For Receipts

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Everyone gets hundreds of paper receipts monthly. These papers are not only hard to manage. They are also a hazardous material for the environment. They are made of chemically coated paper that is not possible to recycle.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. It is not by coincidence that Reduce comes first. Reduce means using fewer resources in the first place. This is the most effective and hardest of the R's. Aleph is to reduce thermal papers.

When using paper receipts, you need to scan them to get some digital copy, but still it is just a photo without possibility to manipulate. It will take you hours to submit monthly expenses report to your company or government.

Aleph is a small electronic device. When plugged to any PC it will show up as a normal printer. It is a direct replacement for thermal printers. Instead of getting hundreds of paper receipt, now you can use our app or 3rd party app to get the receipt on your phone, manage your expenses and generate reports.

Introduction:

'Aleph' is first letter belonging to the oldest verified alphabet, the Phoenician alphabet. The Phoenician Alphabet replaced the symbols and drawings with a dynamic and easily manipulated letters. Exactly like that, Aleph aims to replace the static paper receipts with a digital dynamic copy that can be easily converted or manipulated.

The Problems:

  1. Everyone gets hundreds of paper receipts monthly. These papers have a chemical coating making them impossible to recycle. They all end up in our garbage bins, making tons upon tons of un-treatable garbage globally.
  2. The coating chemicals are not environmentally friendly, and some studies showed that they are not even healthy for the human body. Don't take my words for it just Google BPA Thermal Papers.
  3. In general, paper production is bad for the environment. No matter how harsh the laws are to protect the forest areas, there will always be people bypassing and stretching the laws. Less paper production will hopefully account to less wood generation, which in turn will help in saving green areas.
  4. Paper receipts are very hard to manipulate and edit. If the consumer needs to generate a report, he will have to go through the process of scanning all the receipts. Even after scanning the result is just a still image that is not possible to use for automated reports or calculation software.

The Solution:

On the hardware level Aleph is a small electronic device that will show up as a printer when plugged to the PC. The key concept is to send a printing command to Aleph and it will be able to generate a digital receipt and transfer it to the user using NFC.

The basic operation model is that the store owner (Restaurant - Supermarket - ATM ...) will replace (or use them together) the traditional Thermal Receipt Printer with Aleph Device. When checking out, the customer can then just tap his phone and his receipt will be transferred to the phone directly. On the phone the Aleph App (or 3rd party app) can get the data and offer some automated calculations and reports.

In addition Aleph will upload a PDF copy of the receipt to our secured server. At a later time the customer can download the copy using the mobile application.

What differentiates Aleph from other solutions that tried to solve this problem is the ease of integration. Aleph does not require any additional software to work with existing POS or ATM. The same process that is required to install a paper printer will be used to integrate Aleph with the system
  1. Plug the device to the PC using either USB, LAN or WiFi.
  2. Install the printer driver on the PC
  3. Print to Aleph from any software

The Benefits:

The benefits are numeral for both the consumer and the store owner. Below is a short list but this does not mean that this is the end of it. As the work progresses, the list will be expanded.

Consumer Benefits:

  • Digital editable copy of all the receipt, text based
  • Sort, Search and Share any receipt
  • Detailed real-time expense management
  • Generate reports based on time
  • No more extra vouchers and coupons
  • Optional cloud backup and online editing and more available reports

Store Owner Benefits:

  • Analytics based on anonymous consumer information
  • Push notifications for consumers that opt-in for it
  • Loyalty programs based on consumer trends
  • Voucher and discounts over the air
  • Added value service
  • Cost reduction for paper, ink and maintenance

Environmental Benefits:

  • Significantly reduce paper waste globally
  • Reduce deforestation caused by paper production
  • Reduce air pollution due to use of coating chemicals
  • Reduce health risks based on the contacts with thermal receipts

The Ultimate Goal:

The ultimate goal for this project would be to have Aleph integrated inside 'Tap to pay' devices. Like this, when checking out in the store, the consumer can tap to pay and then tap again to receive the digital receipt.

  • 1 × TM4C1294NCPDT ARM® Cortex®-M4F MCU 32BIT 1024KB FLASH 128TQF
  • 1 × TRF7970ARHBT IC RFID/NFC AFE 13.56MHZ 32QFN
  • 1 × TPS73733DCQ LDO VOLTAGE REGULATOR, 3.3V, 1A, SOT-223-6
  • 5 × CGA3E2X7R1H103K080AA Capacitors / Ceramic
  • 12 × MC0603B104K160CT Capacitors / Ceramic

View all 38 components

  • New Milestones Achieved

    LazyHD09/19/2015 at 22:02 0 comments

      To be eligible to the semifinals, we had to set some milestones for Aleph. For more information you can check the documentation section.

      1. Beta Device: Move from development board (EK-TM4C1294XL) to own PCB.
      2. Real World Testing: Until the quarterfinals phase, Aleph testing was done using a sample PDF receipt. The real world testing would require Aleph to be implemented with an existing POS.
      3. Mobile App: Up until now the mobile app is just a proof of concept ( I know very ugly and mostly useless). The mobile app should be completely changed.
      4. Server Side: Once everything is done. We should start implementing the web application.

      I am very happy that I have done a good progress on each milestone. Some of them are completely done.

      Beta Device:

      All the electronics design is finished. You can find the KiCad files in the GIT repository. You can also find a lot of other useful information that helped in the design. From datasheets to design notes and also libraries for symbols and footprints.

      Not only this, the PCB order has been placed and the PCB was manufactured. I will post more images about the PCB itself in a separate project log.

      I chose and ordered a pre-made box for Aleph. You will see Aleph as a product in the upcoming video. It is not a very fancy box but it does the job for now.

      Milestone Progress : 100%

      Real World Testing:

      This is the most exciting part for me. Not only I have managed to implement Aleph with and existing POS system (PINE), but also it was done in very short amount of time.

      I started the work around 12:00AM Beirut time and I just finished (12:46AM Beirut time). The process included installing Aleph on a new machine and implementing a new parser specific for PINE. Sometimes installing a normal printer takes a longer amount of time.

      You can find the PINE parser in the GIT repository. Also more details will be shown in the upcoming video.

      Milestone Progress : 100%

      Mobile App:

      This is the hardest part for me as my knowledge in mobile development is very limited. Nevertheless, I was able to change the mobile application completely. The code is not 100% native, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The code is not ready yet so I haven't pushed the changed to the repository.

      Milestone Progress : 20%

      Server Side:

      We have started working on the server side. The whole development should take around one month or two as a maximum. For now a mockup of what to expect is reachable at this LINK. For more details you can check the previous project log.

      Milestone Progress : 50%


      Aleph is very close from being a product. The first release should be completed by the end of this competition. Stay tuned for more details. A new video is coming up shortly.

  • Website Mockup

    LazyHD09/15/2015 at 17:37 0 comments

      I have been working on the overall website mock-up. I will try to explain the basic features the website will offer. You can visit the website on this LINK. Just remember the features are not working yet, the only thing you can see for now is the Dashboard. The other sub-menus are just building components. So here are more details about the website. All the photos are filled with dummy data.

      Income Vs Outcome

      Aleph is not only about money you spend but also about money you earn. It should be integrated in ATMs or simply allow the user to input manual amounts. This information will be used to form the first chart on the website which will be Income Vs Outcome.

      Cards

      The cards are like a summary of all your activities. For now they are not clickable but in the future they should be. As you can see from the photo, the cards will show you :

      1. The total amount of transactions done
      2. The number of users sharing the same account
      3. The total number of PDF receipts stored in the account
      4. The number of stores where Aleph was used
      5. How many transactions where done that day
      6. How many coupons were collected in total

      PDF Receipts

      By default to make the transaction fast, Aleph will only send a JSON with information parsed from the receipt itself to the smartphone. The user can later download the PDF file (which is the exact copy of the receipt) to his application either by mobile or web. The receipt will directly show up on the user dashboard for downloading without any need of interaction from the user himself. At this point a user with the right privilege can download the receipt to his dashboard.

      Top Stores

      As the name implies, the top stores section will show the 3 most used stores.


      Categories

      Each item can be attached to a category. This is done either by the store so no interaction from the user is needed. Or by the user himself the first time he buys this item. The below chart shows a comparison between the top categories the user spent money on. Individual categories can be switched on or off to make the graph clearer. The graph will show the number of items bough in the past 15 days.

      Summary

      The summary is a table holding the information about the last 4 days. Each row represents a day, and each row holds the total transaction information of that day.

      Activity

      The activity log show the latest activities done by the user

      Chat

      Since multiple users can share one account. A chat feature is integrated in the website. Using the chat the users can leave each other messages and so on.

      Tools

      The last part of the dashboard holds the tools. These can help the user integrate the Aleph application with 3rd party application or simply download some things from the web to his personal computer.

      1. Generate Report: Different types of reports will be available for generation. The basics will hold information about the spendings and more advanced reports will hold information about future predictions based on the user's activity.
      2. Print Receipts: Since a PDF version is available, the user can then directly issue a print order for specific receipts.
      3. Give Read Access: This is used to give another user read access to your account.
      4. Download Receipts: Using this tool, the user can download PDF version of selected receipts.
      5. Export: This can be used to export information to an excel or similar type of file
      6. Import: If the user visited a store that doesn't have Aleph. He can use this tool in order to import the transaction details

      This is all for now, stay tuned for more information about Aleph. Currently working on multiple things at the same time, so a lot of updates should be coming little by little. Don't forget to share your comments.

  • PCB Produced

    LazyHD09/09/2015 at 06:54 0 comments

    The PCB has been produced and are on the way for hand assembly and testing. Should be 3-4 days. More details will come soon.

    At the meantime I am working on implementing Aleph with an existing POS. The next video will have all the details. Stay tuned.

  • Productising

    LazyHD08/31/2015 at 07:10 0 comments

    Due to some non-technical problems I was not able to submit Aleph to the best product category. That does not mean that Aleph will not be a product once the development is done.

    I just placed an order for the PCB and the needed components. The first step in a long journey. Once the PCB is here and assembled I will shoot the next video for Aleph.

    So in the next development steps you can expect Aleph to turn from prototype to product. After that I will start implementing more and more features in it.

    If you have any feature request or any feedback that can help please let me know.

  • Thank You

    LazyHD08/25/2015 at 12:04 0 comments

    Aleph made it to the next stage. Thanks for all the follows, skulls and most importantly for all the feedback.

  • Documentation

    LazyHD08/17/2015 at 09:22 0 comments

    I would usually make a separate external document for this part. But since Hackaday.io has all the documentation tools included, I will just collect everything in this project so things don't get duplicated.

    Brief Description

    Aleph is an NFC printer aimed to work with any existing POS system without the need of changing anything on the POS side. The POS will treat Aleph just like any other paper printer, Aleph software and hardware will manage the rest. As @Benchoff puts it "IT’S LIKE APPLE PAY, BUT FOR RECEIPTS" [link]


    Milestones

    Based on a lot of feedback from this community, Aleph milestones have changed many times during the design process. I still expect it to change as the design continues. The image below describes the achieved and still to be achieved goals for Aleph.

    I have updated the milestones chart below from the quarterfinals stage with two symbols :

    • ✓ : The check symbol means the milestone is completely achieved
    • ~ : The tilde symbol means the milestone is currently under development

    Hardware Design

    The hardware is responsible for transporting the JSON object generated by the software to the mobile app. It will receive an HTTP request parse it and send it using NFC to the smartphone.

    The hardware design is done using KiCad. All the project files are open and available in the GIT repo. For those that do not have access to KiCad, the documents are also available in PDF and Gerber formats. For more information please visit the following link.

    In order to make things easier here are the most important files in the repo : PDF Schematic , PDF Gerber , CSV BOM .

    Software Development

    The software side of Aleph is responsible of two main things. The first one is parsing the incoming print command and generating a JSON object from it. The second one is generating a PDF file from the print command to give an exact replica of the paper receipt. The JSON is then sent using LAN to the Aleph hardware. The PDF is uploaded to a secured cloud location for later access by the customer.

    All the PC side software development was done using Java. This is to make it cross platform in the future. For the time being the PC software relies on two ready software that work only on windows, this will be changed in the future when all the hardware part is done. As with the hardware, the software is open source and available in the same repo. Here is a quick link to the software folder.

    Firmware Development

    The firmware is built using Eclipse CDT and GCC on Ubuntu. But since the code is published openly, anyone can fork the repo and make his own version of Aleph firmware using any desired platform.

    Mobile App Development

    Currently, and since the transportation is done using NFC only, the mobile application is developed for Android. The mobile app has the minimal features to function and the UI was done quickly just to show the functionality. I started the work on the new and improved mobile application. All the work in available in the GIT repository.
    [Old Version]
    [New Version]

    Server Side Development

    The server side development was until now waiting for the final steps of the firmware and hardware designs. Now that everything is ready the server side development started heavily. Everyday a new progress is made. And to keep you busy, I have uploaded a separate testing UI only website on the following link.

    P.S: Only the dashboard UI is ready for testing. Many changes will be implemented before the final version.

    Ultimate Goals

    The final goal is to make Aleph integrate inside already existing 'Tap to pay' devices. This will allow the user to pay and get the receipt by a tapping on the same device. I am already working to achieve this, I will post more details when something solid comes up.

    Another goal of Aleph is to allow users without access to smartphones to benefit from it. The basic idea is to append a barcode at the end of the paper receipt. Using the mobile or web application the user can then enter the code and receive the data just like he would normally...

    Read more »

  • Milestones

    LazyHD08/17/2015 at 08:13 0 comments

  • Aleph : The Video

    LazyHD08/02/2015 at 22:15 0 comments

    I have a lot going on these few days, I was finally able to mix together this small video for Aleph. It has two parts, the first part is an introduction to Aleph and the second part is a small Demo.


  • PCB Layout

    LazyHD07/11/2015 at 17:37 0 comments

    I am finally done with the PCB Layout first draft. It was a great experience because I was trying new things I haven't tried before. Mostly OpenSCAD and Wings3D. I think I will now stick to OpenSCAD as my 3D tool since my work does not require any complex 3D designs. Most of my 3D designs are components and enclosures for my projects.

  • Just For Fun

    LazyHD07/07/2015 at 12:52 0 comments

    Here is another reason why to use Aleph :

View all 19 project logs

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Discussions

Hacker404 wrote 06/26/2015 at 23:53 point

I don't have (and have never had) a smart phone so I'm a bit lost there but I did service POS for many years and I have also done several year with building web based apps with php / MySQL. 

I don't quite get where the network connection comes into it or even why it's required. It would be a good idea to have your receipts to zoom across to a web based server and manage them from their but although a network connection is available on most POS gear, quite often it is isolated from the internet. I would use the smart phones internet access as it has to exist for this to run anyway. 

One other thought. Most image file types will allow an offset before the image data so it is possible to include the receipt as text before a generated image of the reciept in the same file. It is also possible to place the text after the image but that is not really 'standard'. You could change an extention letter of an existing format and add the text. example.gir The image would display as normal but other software could extract the text much like the EXIF tags in JPEG files. 

  Are you sure? yes | no

LazyHD wrote 06/27/2015 at 06:49 point

Thanks for checking the project and making time for your feedback.

My approach to Aleph for time being is a 'proof of concept' approach. I want to prove that I can integrate to any POS without changing even one line of coding in this POS. I think I was able to achieve that, I was able to intercept the print command, parse it and extract all the useful information from it, generate a JSON from this information and also generate a PDF file to be uploaded to the webserver.

I think your point is valid but I don't think that the solution from all stores will be the same. I think every store can request his own chunk of Aleph and his own connectivity plan. For example, as you have mentioned many POS systems have a network connection but don't have an internet connection. But in my small experience with POS there is almost always an internet connection somewhere on the network. If that is the case the POS can send a request to this local server and this server can manage the web traffic. If we assume that the connection is not available at all, the customer can then get a 3G or other connection to make the system run (just like they provide internet access for an automation system). Another example is what you stated with using the smartphone internet but this one is my least favorite option. 

Still, I will go now and have a quick research about mobile payments. It will be good to see how the POS validates a payments. It must have some kind on internet connection ?! or is it just by dial up like CC.. I will check it now..

I am not uploading an image to the server, it is rather a PDF file. I heard about this idea before ('hiding' text in an image), but I never thought to use it here. It is a good point and I will check if I can do the same with PDF files.  

Thanks again

  Are you sure? yes | no

johnowhitaker wrote 06/05/2015 at 08:08 point

A few comments:

1) I'm pretty sure I've eaten receipt paper in the past - who knew it was such nasty stuff? :P

2) This is a great idea! I have to wonder if some people won't be able to survive on just 'digital' receipts. Will it be possible to print out old-school paper ones as a backup?

3) If I'm claiming money back for expenses, what's to stop me editing the total on my receipt? Or will there be some way for other parties (tax people, my boss) to verify it?

Keep up the good work :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

LazyHD wrote 06/05/2015 at 08:39 point

It is possible to have the 'digital' receipt and the paper receipt together. You don't have to substitute one by the other. If the POS supports multiple printers (most of them do) then you can print to both printers at the same time. If not then Aleph can send a print command to another printer. 

What you receive on your phone is just a text string not to be used with any legal form. A PDF copy will be stored securely on the cloud without any mean of editing this copy. I will have to check the legal point of view on this in the future (do the tax people allow PDF copies? ), in my opinion I don't think the hardcopy is any safer than the soft one. You can then generate an automatic report (monthly,yearly...) for your company, it will include a copy of the original receipt in PDF. The worst case being that you make all the calculations with Aleph and generate the report, and at the same time you keep the hard copies for reference. 

Thanks for the feedback, I will try my best so that the future generations will not have to experience what you did with eating this nasty stuff hahahhaha :P..

  Are you sure? yes | no

Blecky wrote 05/28/2015 at 04:21 point

Ha looks like I accidently jumped onto your idea. It's fine, things were looking to not really go ahead time wise for this project. If I do get some time, healthy competition never goes astray. 

https://hackaday.io/project/5760-smart-receipts

  Are you sure? yes | no

LazyHD wrote 05/28/2015 at 04:47 point

Should you need any help please let me know hahahahhaa (joke).. Not a lot of time on my hands neither to be honest.. I hope at least one of us make it.. All the best..

  Are you sure? yes | no

Blecky wrote 05/28/2015 at 12:57 point

I'm spending too much time on my other entries, so I think this one is all yours :)

I'll keep following your progress.

  Are you sure? yes | no

LazyHD wrote 05/29/2015 at 08:12 point

Good luck my friend, keep one of your SubPos for me as a backup for doomsday 

  Are you sure? yes | no

haydn jones wrote 05/25/2015 at 12:54 point

What if instead of sending the file to a phone, it is sent to a secure server instead? A rfid card could be used to request the file at point of purchase and the receipt (or gig flyer, fanzine, photo etc) could be sent to a dropbox like service or social network for non financial things. Imagine waving a card in front of a gig poster you like the look of and receiving an automatic fb invite.

  Are you sure? yes | no

LazyHD wrote 05/25/2015 at 13:51 point

I am not sure I fully understood your concept.. Currently, the data sent to the phone will not be a copy of the receipt itself. Rather it will be a parsed string having the needed information from the receipt (Items name, Quantity, Price, Tax, Storename ...), nothing graphical. A PDF copy of the receipt (exact replica) will be also hosted on our secure server, the customer will be able to download it at a later time using our app.

It would be very interesting to me to make Aleph work in non financial applications as you mentioned. If you can further explain your idea, I would much appreciate it.

  Are you sure? yes | no

haydn jones wrote 05/25/2015 at 13:55 point

What I mean is to send no data at all to the phone, rather just keep
everything server side, much the same way a contactless debit/credit
card works, with a confirmation message on the scanners screen. People
could choose to use rfid card or a compatable phone (or watch) All the
user would have to do is log in to a calender based website or app, and
bring up there recipts, or gig notices, or go to a documents section for
academic papers etc. Does that make sense?

  Are you sure? yes | no

LazyHD wrote 05/25/2015 at 14:07 point

Makes sense, now I understand.. Based on your feedback, I will try to make the product as much generic as it can be.. Then the user can have different applications depending on his needs. Thanks you :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

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