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Boost your Pebble Time with Open Source hardware modules

Techmog is a liquid network of engineers, programmers, designers and entrepreneurs in and around London who report on the industry we work in, from an insider's view. We're always looking for Londoners with something interesting to say. Send an email to info@techmog.com if you would like to contribute to the website.

Lily

Creative Technologist, maker, writer, geek. @Lily_2point0
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Check out: Arduino Day 2015

Pebble Time is possibly the most talked about smartwatch of this past month. It was fully funded within minutes of its launch and broke Kickstarter’s record of the biggest amount pledged; it has since reached almost 20 million dollars, with still time to go before the campaign ends. Its predecessor, Pebble, is number 3 to-date on the Kickstarter leaderboard.

If you are part of the 77,000+ backers of Pebble Time, you will start receiving your rewards as soon as May. For those of you tinkerers who can’t be content with only using it as is, here’s where things get interesting: you will be able to enhance your new smartwatch with a bit of hardware hacking.

spark-smartstrap-concept

So far, with Pebble, hacks have been software focused; challenging developers to create new apps for the device. The new Pebble model includes a connector on the back (also used for charging) that can be exploited to add custom modules.

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Seeed Studio, for example, have a full range of Open Source modules called Xadow. These are very small and thin boards, weighing only 2 grams, that you can stack or chain together. They offer a variety of sensors such as NFC (Near Field Communication), BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), Heart rate monitor, UV sensor, compass, OLED screen,… Seeed is a hardware innovation platform based in China; they specialise in prototyping and hardware iteration. They produce accessories and shields for platforms such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi; their Xadow range is aimed at the wearable maker market. They are currently working on a connector to bridge Pebble Time and their Xadow modules, which are Arduino-compatible.

Spark IO, known for their Arduino-compatible WiFi modules, have also worked on making the product of their current campaign, Spark Electron, work with Pebble Time. Their new board Electron is a cellular development kit; it works with a SIM card and can get on 2G or 3G networks. It is programmed like an Arduino but is much smaller than the Arduino GSM shield released a few years ago, which makes it ideal for wearables. Pairing this with Pebble Time means that the watch could break free from smartphones, and stop depending on close proximity to connected devices to be fully functional.

Pebble-7

Both Spark and Seeed have responded to Pebble’s brief for Smartstrap concepts. Pebble have understood that, with components becoming smaller, interactivity goes beyond the clock face and can be extended to the strap to improve the capabilities of the watch, and provide a personalised experience for every user. This level of customisation and modularity reminds us of Google’s Project Ara, and their idea of fully bespoke LEGO-like smartphones.

You might have chosen your Pebble Time’s colour, band, and Steel finish, but as you can see, you could do much more and turn it into a fitness tracker without relying on your phone, unlock your house with NFC, or maybe even add a second screen on the strap. There is an abundance of possibilities to transform Pebble Time into a wearable that is tailored to you. So, what will you make?

Posted 26th Mar 2015
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