Official: Pebble Ceases Hardware Production

Today Pebble has announced that it will cease all hardware production. Their outstanding Kickstarter deliveries will not be fulfilled but refunds will be issued. Warranties on all existing hardware will no longer be honored. However, the existing smartwatch service will continue… for now.

This isn’t unexpected, we ran an article yesterday about the all-but-certain rumors FitBit had acquired Pebble (and what led to that). Today’s news has turned speculation about Pebble 2 and Pebble Core Kickstarter campaigns into reality. You won’t get your hands on that fancy new hardware, but at least backers will have the money returned.

Perhaps the most interesting part of today’s blog post from the founder of Pebble, Eric Migicovsky, is about how this impacts more than a million watches already in the wild. Service will continue but (wait for it) “Pebble functionality or service quality may be reduced in the future.”

It’s not like this is a unique problem. Devices purchased by consumers that are dependent on phoning home to a server to function is a mounting issue. Earlier this year [Elliot Williams] coined this issue “Obsolescence as a Service” which is quite fitting. Anyone who still has a functional first generation iPad has enjoyed reduced quality of service; without available upgrades, you are unable to install most apps. It’s zombie hardware; electrons still flow but there’s no brain activity.

One of the perks associated with FitBit acquiring Pebble is that they have decided to keep those servers running for watches in the field. A cynic might look at the acquisition as FitBit reducing competition in the market — they wouldn’t have let hardware production cease if they were interested in acquiring the user base. At some point, those servers will stop working and the watches won’t be so smart after all. FitBit owns the IP which means they could open source everything needed for the community to build their own server infrastructure. When service quality “reduced in the future” that’s exactly what we want to see happen.

The Internet of Tampons

At the 2016 Hackaday Superconference, Amanda Brief and Jacob McEntire gave a talk on what they’ve been working on for the past few years. It’s My.Flow, the world’s first tampon monitor capable of tracking saturation, and eliminating anxiety, leakage, and infection. It’s better than a traditional tampon, and it’s one of the rare Internet of Things things that actually makes sense.

There’s a long history of technological innovation to deal with menstruation. What began with simply sending women out of the village for a week turned into a ‘sanitary belt’ after a few thousand years. This astonishing technological advance of treating women as people led to the pad, the cup, and eventually, the disposable tampon. Now My.Flow is applying modern electrochemical technology to move the state of the art forward.

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The Demise of Pebble as a Platform

Despite owning five, including the original Pebble, I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about smart watches. Even so, the leaked news that Fitbit is buying Pebble for “a small amount” has me sort of depressed about the state of the wearables market. Because Pebble could have been a contender, although perhaps not for the reason you might guess.

Pebble is a pioneer of the wearables market, and launched its first smartwatch back in 2012, two years before the Apple Watch was announced. But after turning down an offer of $740 million by Citizen back in 2015, and despite cash injections from financing rounds and a recent $12.8 million Kickstarter, the company has struggled financially.

An offer of just $70 million earlier this year by Intel reflected Pebble’s reduced prospects, and the rumoured $30 to $40 million price being paid by Fitbit must be a disappointing outcome for a company that was riding high such a short time ago.

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Controlling This Smartwatch is All in the Wrist

Smartwatches are pretty great. In theory, you’ll never miss a notification or a phone call. Plus, they can do all kinds of bio-metric tracking since they’re strapped to one of your body’s pulse points. But there are downsides. One of the major ones is that you end up needing two hands to do things that are easily one-handed on a phone. Now, you could use the tip of your nose like I do in the winter when I have mittens on, but that’s not good for your eyes. It seems that the future of smartwatch input is not in available appendages, but in gesture detection.

Enter WristWhirl, the brain-child of Dartmouth and University of Manitoba students [Jun Gong], [Xing-Dong Yang], and [Pourang Irani]. They have built a prototype smartwatch that uses continuous wrist movements detected by IR proximity sensors to control popular off-the-shelf applications. Twelve pairs of dirt-cheap IR sensors connected to an Arduino Due detect any of eight simple gestures made by the wearer to do tasks like opening the calendar, controlling a music player, panning and zooming a map, and playing games like Tetris and Fruit Ninja. In order to save battery, a piezo senses pinch between the user’s thumb and forefinger and uses this input to decide when to start and stop gesture detection.

According to their paper (PDF warning), the gesture detection is 93.8% accurate. To get this data, the team had their test subjects perform each of the eight gestures under different conditions such as walking vs. standing and doing either with the wrist in watch-viewing position or hanging down at their side. Why not gesture your way past the break to watch a demo?

If you’re stuck on the idea of playing Tetris with gestures, there are other ways.

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Make Your Eyes Louder With Bluetooth Speaker Goggles

Your eyes are cool, but they aren’t very loud. You can remedy that with this build from [Sam Freeman]: a pair of Bluetooth speaker goggles. Combine a pair of old welders goggles with a Bluetooth receiver, a small amp and a couple of cheap speaker drivers and you’re well on your way to securing your own jet set radio future.

[Sam] found a set of speaker drivers that were the same size as the lenses of the goggles, as if they were designed for each other. They don’t do much for your vision, but they definitely look cool. [Sam] found that he could run the speakers for an hour or so from a small Lithium Ion battery that’s hidden inside the goggles, along with a large lever switch for that throwback electronics feel. The total cost of this build is a reasonably-low at $40, or less if you use bits from your junk pile.

The real trick is watching them in action and deciding if there’s any motion happening. Don’t get us wrong, they look spectacular but don’t have the visual feedback component of, say, the bass cannon. Look for yourself in the clip below. We might add a pair of googly eyes on the speakers that dance as they move, but that would get away from the more serious Robopunk look that [Sam] is going for. What would you add to build up the aesthetic of these already iconic goggles?

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Stormtrooper Voice Changer Helmet uses Teensy to Mangle Audio

Halloween has come and gone, but this DIY voice changing Star Wars Stormtrooper helmet tutorial by [Shawn Hymel] is worth a look for a number of reasons. Not only is the whole thing completely self-contained, but the voice changing is done in software thanks to the Teensy’s powerful audio filtering abilities. In addition, the Teensy also takes care of adding the iconic Stormtrooper clicks, pops, and static bursts around the voice-altered speech. Check out the video below to hear it in action.

Besides a microphone and speakers, there’s a Teensy 3.2, a low-cost add-on board for the Teensy that includes a small audio amp, a power supply… and that’s about it. There isn’t a separate WAV board or hacked MP3 player in sight.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Raspberry Pi Zero Smart Glass

Some of the more interesting consumer hardware devices of recent years have been smart glasses. Devices like Google Glass or Snapchat Spectacles, eyewear incorporating a display and computing power to deliver information or provide augmented reality on an unobtrusive wearable platform.

Raspberry Pi Zero Smart Glass aims to provide an entry into this world, with image recognition and OCR text recognition in a pair of glasses courtesy of a Raspberry Pi Zero. Unusually though it does not take the display option of other devices of having a mirror or prism in the user’s field of view, instead it replaces the user’s entire field of view with a display and re-connects them to the world through the Raspberry Pi camera.

The display in question is an inexpensive set of “3D Virtual Stereo Digital Video glasses”, of the type that can be found fairly easily on your favourite auction site. They aren’t particularly high-resolution, but the Pi can easily drive them with its composite video output. The electronics and camera are mounted on a headband, in a custom 3D-printed enclosure. All files can be downloaded from the project page.

There is some Python software, but it’s fair to say that there is not a clear demo on the project page showing it working. However this is no reason to disregard this project, because even if its software has yet to achieve its full potential there is value elsewhere. The 3D-printed Raspberry Pi enclosure should be of use to many other similar wearable projects, and we’d almost say it’s worthy of a project all of its own.