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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DIY Smartwatch Based On ESP8266 Needs Classification

Building your own smartwatch is a fun challenge for the DIY hobbyist. You need to downsize your electronics, work with SMD components, etch your own PCBs and eventually squeeze it all into a cool enclosure. [Igor] has built his own ESP8266-based smartwatch, and even though he calls it a wrist display – we think the result totally sells as a smartwatch.

His design is based on a PCB for a wireless display notifier he designed earlier this year. The design uses the ESP-12E module and features an OLED display, LEDs, tactile switches and an FT232R USB/UART interface. Our beloved TP4056 charging regulator takes care of the Lithium-ion cell and a voltage divider lets the ESP8266’s ADC read back the battery voltage. [Igor] makes his own PCBs using the toner transfer method, and he’s getting impressive results from his hacked laminator.

Together with a hand-made plastic front, everything fits perfectly into the rubber enclosure from a Jelly Watch. A few bits of Lua later, the watch happily connects to a WiFi network and displays its IP configuration. Why wouldn’t this be a watch? Well, it lacks the mandatory RTC, although that’s easy to make up for by polling an NTP time server once in a while. How would our readers classify this well-done DIY build? Let us know in the comments!

Dumping U8Plus Smartwatch ROM Via Vibration Motor

[Lee] continues with his exploration of the U8Plus (a cheap smartwatch). He hasn’t got it all cracked, yet, but he did manage to get a dump of the device’s ROM using an unusual method. At first, [Lee] thought that the JTAG interface (or, at least, the pins presumed to be the JTAG interface) would be a good way to explore the device. However, none of the people experimenting with the device have managed to get it to work.

Instead, [Lee] went through the serial bootloader and dumped the flash memory. He found out, though, that the bootloader refused to read the ROM area. It would, however, load and run a program. Unfortunately, no one has found how to access the UART device directly, but they have found how to drive the vibration motor.

[Lee] took off the vibration motor and used it as an output port for a simple program to dump the ROM. An Arduino picked up the data at a low baud rate and produced an output file. This should allow more understanding of how to drive the watch hardware.

We covered the initial teardown of this watch earlier this year. Of course, if you don’t want to reverse engineer a smartwatch, you could always build your own.

Cheap Smartwatch Teardown

A proper smartwatch can cost quite a bit of money. However, there are some cheap Bluetooth-connected watches that offer basic functions like show your incoming calls, dial numbers and display the state of your phone battery. Not much, but these watches often sell for under $20, so you shouldn’t expect too much.

Because they’re so cheap, [Lee] bought one of these (a U8Plus) and within an hour he had the case opened up and his camera ready. As you might expect, the biggest piece within was the rechargeable battery. A MediaTek MT6261 system on a chip provides the smart part of the watch.

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PIC32 Smart Watch for Less Than a Benjamin

[Matthew Filipek] likes smart watches, but wanted to build one for under $100, so he did. The watch has a 1.7 inch LCD touchscreen, a rechargeable LiPo battery, an SD card, and Bluetooth. The watch is a little large since [Matthew] had only a month to complete the project that drove him to use some pre-made modules image004and meant one shot at getting his custom PCB right.

The watch sports three applications: a settings app, a simple game, and a sketch program (you can see a demo in the video below). Power management is a primary goal, of course, although the clock rate is held high enough to make the game playable. To simplify the software, [Matthew] uses protothreads–a lightweight thread abstraction for embedded systems.

We’ve seen several DIY smartwatches in the past including one entry for the Hackaday Prize. It is hard to roll your own watch that has the same small size and style as a commercial offering. However, there is something to be said for having a homebrew watch for boosting your hacker cred.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Homebrew Smartwatches

The Pebble Smartwatch has been around for years, and the introduction of the Apple Watch has everyone looking at wrist-mounted computing as the newest gadget consumers can glom onto. There was never any doubt the 2015 Hackaday Prize would have more than a few smartwatches.

[Ramon]’s Zerowatch gets its name from the Arduino Zero, as this watch is based off of and completely compatible with the Arduino Zero. With a 48 MHz ARM Cortex M0+, a three-axis accelrometer, a microSD card slot, and a bright OLED display, this is an extremely capable wrist-mounted computer. As with all wearable electronics, the enclosure makes or breaks the entire device, and [Ramon] has a very slick 3D printed case for this watch.

Connectivity is important for smartwatches, and that’s something [Montassar]’s Open Source Smart Watch doesn’t skimp out on. He’s using an STM32F4 as the main controller and a 1.44″ TFT, and adding the standard Bluetooth module — an HC-05 — to the mix. [Montasar]’s project is also tackling connectivity by working on a few Android apps that connect directly to this phone. He’s using the MIT App Inventor to speed up development for these phone apps, and makes custom smartwatch apps a breeze.

Both are great projects, and thanks to free, open source, and easy to use tool chains, both projects are excellent examples of open hardware development and a great entry to The Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Hackaday Prize Entry: New Firmware For A Smartwatch

Smartwatches are the next big thing. Nobody knows what we’re going to use them for, but that’s never stopped a product from being the hottest item around. The WeLoop Tommy isn’t the Apple Watch, it isn’t the Moto360, and it isn’t the Microsoft Band. It is, however, a nice smartwatch with a Sharp memory display and a battery that lasts longer than a few days. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Krzysiek] is making an open source firmware for the WeLoop Tommy that will add capabilities no other smartwatch has.

This project is a complete reverse engineering of the WeLoop Tommy smartwatch. [Krzysiek] is tearing everything down to the bare components and figuring out how the RAM, Flash, buttons, LCD, and accelerometer connect to the processor. After that, it’s time for custom firmware.

Already [Krzysiek] has a test app that displays [OSSW] on the Sharp memory display. It’s not much, but the hardware is solid. With the right firmware, the WeLoop Tommy will be able to do just about everything an Android, Apple, or Microsoft smartwatche can do using repurposed hardware and open source firmware.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: