Internal Research Project

We are experimenting with ePaper for architectural use.

What happens when technology works in the background?
When it’s slow instead of fast?
When it’s dull instead of luminous?

Very Slow Movie Player is a demonstration project exploring those questions. It’s an object that plays films at 24 frames per hour instead of 24 frames per second. To get a sense of what that means, it’s best to watch this video:

The device contains a Raspberry Pi computer, custom software, and a reflective ePaper display (similar to a Kindle), all housed in a 3D-printed case. Every two-and-a-half minutes, a frame from a film that’s stored on the computer’s memory card is extracted, converted to black and white using a dithering algorithm, and then communicated to the ePaper display. Because the screen is reflective instead of emissive (like your LCD monitor), it accepts the light of the room instead of illuminating it, like so:

VSMP in shadow
VSMP in near darkness
VSMP in waning light


This technology is well suited to urban applications, not least because of its low power usage. Sydney deployed real-time ePaper bus stops earlier this year by Visionect, and they’re beautiful. Compared with LinkNYC, which uses big, bright LED screens, the ePaper displays are more urbane because they are significantly more deferential to the public realm. As an urban display, the ePaper totems don’t do as much as Link—no doubt—but it’s still not quite clear what itch Link is scratching on behalf of the public.

We’re interested in how ePaper displays could be used as a low-cost, easy to maintain way to bring neighborhood content back into shared physical spaces—parks, libraries, ice cream shops, etc.

VSMP also suggests a pull toward new possibilities of ornament and decoration, toward ways to make our digital lives present in our physical world in more subtle ways. This ePaper-tiled parking garage at San Diego International Airport is one example of the medium’s ornamental potential. And while the parking garage tiles intend to readily change the structure’s appearance, there is room to explore the possibilities with a building or surface whose appearance evolves slowly over time. At a pace of 24 frames per hour, an evolving wall would change almost imperceptibly.

Walls with ePaper can offer a way to play with interwoven timelines: the minutes of human rituals, the hours of our planet’s rotation, and the months of Earth’s annual orbit around the sun. We might create a wall of William Morris wallpaper patterns that blossom and wither at the actual pace of the seasons. Or use footstep sensors to track visitors and change one pixel of a wall for each person who enters, very slowly turning the room from black to white in a digital obliteration room. Or add to the predictable shadows that fall across the facade of a building with fantastical digital supplements—shadow puppets at the scale of a building.

Scenes from the workbench

This project utilizes custom hardware and software that we built in-house.

One of the first images displayed on the VSMP
Note pocket
Assembly of VSMP
VSMP innards
Everything fits into a 3d printed case
Terminal screencast
back case
Inaugural voyage