An Open Source Smart Watch You’d Actually Wear

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.

The GPS edition of the PCB

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.

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The IEEE Builds A Smart Watch

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.

TI EZ430-Chronos Turned Medical Alert Wearable

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.

Messages and recipients can easily be modified.

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.

We’ve seen custom alert hardware before, but like [ogdento] points out, using the eZ430-Chronos provides a considerable advantage in that its a turn-key platform. It’s comfortable to wear, reliable, and fairly rugged. While some would argue against trusting independently developed code for such a vital task, at least the hardware is a solved problem.

Cheap Smartwatch Hacking, To Run Your Own Code

[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.

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SMA-Q2 Smart Watch Is Completely Hackable

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.

Custom main board with a NRF52840 module

[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.

We really hope the community takes a liking to this watch, and look forward to seeing some awesome hacking. This is an excellent addition to the list of candidates for the perfect hacker’s smart watch that [Lewin Day] has already investigated . We also see a lot of DIY smart watches including one with a beautiful wood-filled 3D printed housing and another with LED matrix display.

Neat Smart(ish) Watch Build Uses BLE

Digital watches are a pretty neat idea, and are a great way to experiment with designing and building low-power circuits. That’s what [Eric Min] did with this neat smart watch build. It’s based around an nRF52832 SoC that does all of the heavy lifting, including connecting to a smartphone to get the time when the battery is replaced. It also has a decent quantity of blinky LEDs, which is important on any project of this type.

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Roll Up Your Sleeve, Watch A Video With This Smart Watch Forearm Projector

We’re all slowly getting used to the idea of wearable technology, fabulous flops like the creepy Google Glass notwithstanding. But the big problem with tiny tech is in finding the real estate for user interfaces. Sure, we can make it tiny, but human fingers aren’t getting any smaller, and eyeballs can only resolve so much fine detail.

So how do we make wearables more usable? According to Carnegie-Mellon researcher [Chris Harrison], one way is to turn the wearer into the display and the input device (PDF link). More specifically, his LumiWatch projects a touch-responsive display onto the forearm of the wearer. The video below is pretty slick with some obvious CGI “artist’s rendition” displays up front. But even the somewhat limited displays shown later in the video are pretty impressive. The watch can claim up to 40-cm² of the user’s forearm for display, even at the shallow projection angle offered by a watch bezel only slightly above the arm — quite a feat given the irregular surface of the skin. It accomplishes this with a “pico-projector” consisting of red, blue, and green lasers and a pair of MEMS mirrors. The projector can adjust the linearity and brightness of the display to provide a consistent image across the uneven surface. An array of 10 time-of-flight sensors takes care of watching the display area for touch input gestures. It’s a fascinating project with a lot of potential, but we wonder how the variability of the human body might confound the display. Not to mention the need for short sleeves year round.

Need some basics on the micro-electrical mechanic systems (MEMS) behind the pico-projector in this watch? We’ve got a great primer on these microscopic machines.

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