Modern smart watches have some incredible features, but they still don’t stack up to what science fiction promised us, both in size and capabilities. Fortunately, [Zack Freedman] has set out to change that with the Singularitron, a modular wearable computer that is less Apple Watch and more Pip-Boy.
The most striking features of this monstrosity is its size and the out-of-production four-line VFD display. The inputs consist of a row of large RGB-illuminated buttons and a rotary encoder mounted at an angle to curve around the wearers arm. On the inside are a pair of PCBs with an integrated Teensy 3.2, BLE module, motion processing module, haptic driver and power circuitry drawing from a removable 18650 battery. The armband is from a commercial wrist mounted barcode scanner which attaches to the Singularitron with a quick-detach mount.
A major feature of the Singularitron is its modularity. Arrayed around its edges are four slots with spring-loaded contacts for add-on modules. Modules have access to the SPI and I2C busses, two GPIO pins, 3.3 V and 5 V lines. Each module also contains an EEPROM chip to store the module’s ID and any configured settings, allowing modules to be hot swapped and automatically recognised. [Zack] has created a number of modules, like a laser pointer, environmental sensor, OLED display and a Teensy 4.0 to blink an LED. When a module is plugged or inserted, a series of randomly generated status messages flash across the display, thanks to an awesome little library which we are absolutely copying for our own projects. Ironically, keeping the time is one of the Singularitron weak points, since [Zack] wasn’t able to fit a backup battery inside, so the time needs to be reset when the battery dies. Maybe a module with an RTC and backup battery is the perfect solution. Continue reading “A Massive Modular Smartwatch To Match Your Sci-Fi Fantasies”→
Ask a smart watch owner what their favorite wrist-mounted feature is, and they might say it’s having all their daily information available at a glance, or the ease with which they’re able to communicate with friends and family. If they don’t mention knocking out a few lines in their wearable BASIC interpreter, then you know you aren’t talking to [Nick Bild]. His “C64 Watch” firmware for the LILYGO T-Watch 2020 not only takes some visual inspiration from the Commodore 64, but also lets you relive those early computing glory days with a functional BASIC environment.
Originally [Nick] used a teeny tiny onscreen keyboard to tap out his BASIC programs, but finding the experience to be uncomfortably like torture, he switched over to using USB. Just plug the watch into your computer, open your favorite serial terminal, and you’ll have access to the customized version of TinyBasic Plus running on the watch. To make things even easier, he’s looking at implementing a web-based terminal over WiFi so you don’t need to plug the watch in.
When you aren’t running BASIC you’ll be treated to a Commodore-themed watch face, complete with the classic READY. prompt. A small battery indicator is hidden up in the top-right corner, and tapping on the rainbow colored “C” will launch the menu. It’s pretty simplistic, but of course what else would you expect given the source material?
Looking ahead, [Nick] says he’d also like to implement a C64 emulator into the firmware so the watch could run original software. We’re a bit skeptical about how practical that would actually be, but we’ll reserve judgement until we see it in operation. He’s also hoping other Commodore aficionados will chime in with their own improvements and new features for the watch.
We’ve seen a number of open source smart watches over the years, and while they’ve certainly been impressive from a technical standpoint, they often leave something to be desired in terms of fit and finish. Exposed PCBs and monochromatic OLED displays might be fine for a trip to the hackerspace, but it wouldn’t be our first choice for date night attire.
Enter the Open-SmartWatch from [pauls_3d_things]. This ESP32 powered watch packs a gorgeous circular 240×240 TFT display, DS323M RTC, BMA400 three-axis accelerometer, and a 450 mAh battery inside of a 3D printed enclosure that can be produced on your average desktop machine. WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity are a given with the ESP32, but there’s also an enhanced edition of the PCB that adds another 4 MB of RAM, a micro SD slot, and a Quectel L96 GPS receiver.
As it’s an open source project you’re free to download the PCB design files and get the board produced on your own, but [pauls_3d_things] has actually partnered with LILYGO to do a run of the Open-SmartWatch electronics which you can pick up on AliExpress right now for just $24 USD. You’ll still need to order the battery separately and 3D print your own case, but it still seems like a pretty sweet deal to us.
On the software front, things are pretty basic right now. The watch can update the time from NTP using a pre-configured WiFi network, and there’s a Bluetooth media controller and stopwatch included. Of course, as more people get the hardware in their hands (or on their wrists, as the case may be), we’ll likely start seeing more capabilities added to the core OS.
While getting our own code running on commercially produced smartwatches holds a lot of promise, the Open-SmartWatch is arguably the best of both worlds. The partnership with LILYGO brings professional fabrication to the open hardware project, and the GPLv3 licensed firmware is ripe for hacking. We’re very excited to see where the community takes this project, and fully expect to start seeing these watches out in the wild once we can have proper cons again.
It used to be that building your own watch was either a big project or it meant that you didn’t really care about how something looked on your wrist. But now with modern parts and construction techniques, a good-looking smart watch isn’t out of reach of the home shop. But if you don’t want to totally do it yourself, you can turn to a kit and that’s what [Stephen Cass] did. Writing in IEEE Spectrum, he took a kit called a Watchy and put it through its paces for you.
Watchy is an open source product that uses an ESP32, an E-ink display, and costs about $50. The display is 1.5 inches — good enough for a watch — and it has a real time clock, a vibration motor, an accelerometer, and four buttons. The whole thing runs on a 200 mAh lithium polymer battery. The charger is microUSB and you can also upload software to it using the usual Arduino tools.
However, [Stephen] found that none of the examples he tried would work at first. He found problems with the Mac software, but he also had problems under Windows. The answer? Switching to a Raspberry Pi seemed to work and once the watch was wiped clean, the Mac tools would work, too. It sounds like this isn’t a common problem, but he has to erase the watch with the Pi before each programming cycle.
Unlike a normal Arduino program, all the work in a typical Watchy program happens in setup() so the watch can mostly sleep and it updates the 200×200 typically just once a minute. As an example, [Stephan] wrote a watch face that uses an old Irish alphabet to tell time. He plans to add code to grab online data, too, and the phone has support for connecting wirelessly and parsing JSON to make tasks like that easier.
We always thought the EZ430-Chronos was a good-looking watch, but its screen is dated now. You can also pick up a lot of cheap import watches that can be hacked.
Long before the current smartwatch craze, Texas Instruments released the eZ430-Chronos. Even by 2010s standards, it was pretty clunky. Its simple LCD display and handful of buttons also limited what kind of “smart” tasks it could realistically perform. But it did have one thing going for it: its SDK allowed users to create a custom firmware tailored to their exact specifications.
It’s been nearly a decade since we’ve seen anyone dust off the eZ430-Chronos, but that didn’t stop [ogdento] from turning one into a custom alert device for a sick family member. A simple two-button procedure on the watch will fire off emails and text messages to a pre-defined list of contacts, all without involving a third party or have to pay for a service contract. Perhaps most importantly, the relatively energy efficient eZ430 doesn’t need to be recharged weekly or even daily as would be the case for a modern smartwatch.
To make the device as simple as possible, [ogdento] went through the source code for the stock firmware and commented out every function beyond the ability to show the time. With the watch’s menu stripped down to the minimum, a new alert function was introduced that can send out a message using the device’s 915 MHz CC1101 radio.
The display even shows “HELP” next to the appropriate button so there’s no confusion. A second button press is required to send the alert, and there’s even a provision for canceling it should the button be pressed accidentally.
On the receiving side, [ogdento] is using a Raspberry Pi with its own CC1101 radio plugged into the USB port. When the Python scripts running on the Pi picks up the transmission coming from the eZ430 it starts working through a list of recipients to send messages to. A quick look at the source code shows it would be easy to provide your own contact list should you want to put together your own version of this system.
[Aaron Christophel] has been busy, he picked up a P8 smartwatch of the type that many of you will no doubt have seen. They cost almost nothing and do almost… nothing. In all fairness, they do connect to your phone using Bluetooth LE courtesy of a chip from Nordic (the NRF52832), and they can do several simple tasks. But they don’t run applications in the way an Android or Apple watch does. [Aaron] wants to run his own applications, so his YouTube channel has a lot of information about hacking the P8 and other watches with similar chips. In one video you can watch below, he demonstrates how he’s written support for Arduino programming to the devices. What we were really excited about was the second video below where he shows his Android app that can flash the devices via Bluetooth. That means you can potentially hack these devices without opening them up.
The app that normally runs these watches is called Da Fit, so [Aaron] called his utility DaFlasher. This is all early stuff so we expect some coaxing to get everything working, but it has great promise.
The search for the ultimate hacker’s smart watch probably won’t end any time soon. [emeryth] has nominated another possible candidate in the form of the SMA-Q2, and has made a lot of progress in making it accessible.
Also known as the SMA-TIME, the watch is based around the popular NRF52832 Bluetooth SoC, with a colour memory LCD, accelerometer, and a heart rate sensor on the back. The main feature that makes it so easy to hack is the stock bootloader on the NRF52832 that works with generic Nordic upload tool, making firmware upgrades a breeze via a smart phone. Unfortunately the bootloader itself is locked, so it must be completely wiped to gain debugging access. The hardware configuration has also been well reverse engineered with all the details available.
[emeryth] has most of the basic features working with his custom firmware, although it’s still in the early stages. He designed a new watch face that includes weather updates and basic audio controls. The 3-bit display’s power consumption has also been reduced by only refreshing the necessary parts. The heart rate sensor outputs the raw waveforms, and it’s pretty accurate after a bit of FFT and filtering magic. Built-in tap and tilt detection is available on the accelerometer, which works well, but strangely doesn’t appear to have been used in the stock firmware.
Unfortunately the original enclosure design that used screws was dropped for glued version. It’s still possible to open without breaking anything, just a bit more difficult. [emeryth] Another hardware hacker named [BigCorvus] has even designed a completely new open-source main board with a NRF52840 module and heart rate sensor on a small flex PCB, with everything up on GitHub.