Is That An ESP32 On Your Wrist?

What could you do with a dual-core 240 MHz ESP32 that supports Arduino-style programming, with 16 MB of flash, 8 MB of PSRAM, and 520 k of RAM? Oh, let’s throw in a touchscreen, an accelerometer, Wifi, and Bluetooth. Besides that, it fits on your wrist and can show the time? That’s the proposition behind Lilygo T Watch 2020. If it sounds like a smartwatch, it is. At around $25 –and you can snag the hardware from a few different places — it is not only cheaper than the latest flagship smartwatch, but it is also infinitely more hackable.

OK, so the screen is only 1.54″, but then again, it is a watch. If Arduino isn’t your thing, you can use anything else that supports the ESP32 like Micropython or even Scratch. There are variants that have LoRA and GPS, at slightly higher prices. You can also find ones with heart rate monitors and other features.

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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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OpenChronograph Lets You Roll Your Own Smart Watch

At first, smartwatches were like little tiny tablets or phones that you wore on your wrist. More recently though we have noticed more “hybrid” smartwatches, that look like a regular watch, but that use their hands to communicate data. For example you might hear a text message come in and then see the hand swing to 1, indicating it is your significant other. Want to roll your own? The OpenChronograph project should be your first stop.

The watches are drop in replacements for several Fossil and Skagen watch boards (keep in mind Fossil and Skagen are really the same company). There’s an Arduino-compatible Atmega328p, an ultra low power real time clock, a magnetometer, pressure sensor, temperature sensor, and support for a total of three hands. You can even create PCB artwork that will act as the watch face using Python.

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Pavlok Gets A Literally Shocking Teardown

Apparently, there is a wrist-mounted device that delivers electric shocks to the wearer when it receives the appropriate command over Bluetooth. No, it’s not part of some kind of house arrest program. If you can believe it, the gadget is actually intended to help break bad habits or wake up exceptionally deep sleepers. We don’t know which of those problems [Becky Stern] has, but we’re glad to see she decided to take hers apart before the 21st century self-flagellation started.

Called the Pavlok and available for $180 USD from various online retailers, the device looks like a chunky fitness tracker. But in place of the screen that would show you how many steps you’ve taken or your current heart rate, there’s a lighting bolt button that you can press when you want to shock yourself. With the smartphone application, you can control the device remotely with a handy desktop widget that allows you to select the intensity of the shock. No, we aren’t making any of this up. Check out the video after the break to see it in action.

When [Becky] tried to take the Pavlok apart, she found that it was nearly impossible to handle it without inadvertently triggering a shock. So until she could get the case open and physically disconnect the battery, all she could do was turn the intensity down in the application and work through the occasional jolts from the device. We can only hope that more devices don’t adopt a similar sense of self-preservation.

Once inside she found mainly the same kind of hardware you’d expect in a standard, non-masochistic, fitness wearable. There’s a nRF52832 Bluetooth SoC, a MMA8451Q accelerometer, a PCF85063A I2C RTC, and a FXAS21002C gyroscope. What you’re somewhat less likely to find inside your FitBit however is the LPR6235 coupled inductor and beefy capacitors which are used to build up a high-voltage charge from the standard 3.7 V LiPo battery.

We’ve been very interested in the recent projects which are creating custom firmwares for commercially available fitness wearables, as it could be an express route to a hacker-friendly smartwatch. While the Pavlok has some compelling hardware, and the programming header [Becky] identified looks interesting, we don’t like the idea of being one misplaced if statement away from riding the lightning.

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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.

Hackaday Podcast 039: Elliot <3 Lightning Detectors, Ikea Dark Mode, The Smartest Watch, Solar Sailing The Sky, And VAWT Controversy

Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys recap a week full of hacks from the solar sailing RC plane that has zero power storage, to geeking out about lightning detectors and hacking Ikea LED controllers to unlock real dimming to building backyard wind turbines. We look up an IoT egg tray with appreciation not for the concept but certainly for the engineering, and scratch our heads on why one-hacker-smartwatch-to-rule-them-all seems like something that should happen but so far has only been a fleeting concept.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (68 MB)

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Ask Hackaday: What’s The Perfect Hacker Smart Watch?

Since Dick Tracy all the way back in ’46, smart watches have captured the public imagination. After several false starts, the technology has gone through a renaissance in the last 10 years or so. For the average consumer, there’s been a proliferation of hardware in the marketplace, with scores of different models to choose from. For the hackers, however, pickings are a little more slim. So what is the best smart watch for the tinkerers among us? Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What’s The Perfect Hacker Smart Watch?”