Open-Source Design Could Lead To A Fully Customizable Smartwatch
With 3D-printed cases and a la carte apps, your smartwatch could rejoin your wardrobe as something that's truly unique to you.
Let’s face it – smartwatches aren’t the most fashionable members of the watch community yet. They’re certainly better than wearing an entire smartphone on your wrist, but especially for people with small hands and wrists, their enormity can overwhelm, and the fact that they were designed by electronics manufacturers and not watch designers, can repel.
Fortunately, customers are no longer restricted to the sporadic releases of companies that may be oriented more toward functionality than appearance. Enterprising developer Jonathan Cook is the first to embark on the path toward such modular, reconfigurable and potentially stylish smartwatches with his simply titled Open Source Watch project, which runs on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and features a microduino processor and 3D-printed case.
Though the project remains in its infancy after only nine months, it will soon have compatibility with email, Facebook notifications, and Twitter updates, making it an up-and-coming competitor in the smartwatch race. Cook has even cited the Pebble smartwatch as an inspiration: “I see this first as an open source ‘pebble’ type project,” he has said.
The instructions, as you might expect, are quite complex. In addition to the microduino core, the Open Source Watch requires soldering and wiring, which are generally beyond the grasp of the casual wearable tech enthusiast. “This is a time consuming project, which requires both patience and solid soldering experience,” he says in his building instructions, adding that “The small wires are… fun.”
This, however, opens up the possibility for all kinds of different hardware in the watch, should someone decide to pursue his instructions. One choice that can significantly impact a watch’s functionality, for example, is the display. Depending on their requirements for battery life, for example, makers can choose from an OLED MonoCromatic display that has a nice white-on-black look that goes with the watch’s overall aesthetic (and is cheap at $24 apiece), a Sharp MonoCromatic Display that costs $40 but offers the speed and lower power consumption of an E-Ink display, and an OLED Color Display that for around $35 also includes an SD card reader that can remedy the intense memory consumption of color apps.
Cook’s efforts, while not entirely finished, have already earned him a little place in the sun. He and his growing team have won an invitation from Make Magazine to Maker Faire Rome 2014, which is October 3-5. Last year, it attracted more than 30,000 makers and attendees with its uniquely European flair. Amid all the evocations of the Renaissance, perhaps some of them even lost track of time.