Besides being fun to build, extremely customizable, and simply cool to wear, DIY smartwatches are a far more affordable option when compared to commercial products.
One of the main components required is a custom printed circuit board (PCB), which isn’t your standard off-the-shelf part. But with DIY smartwatch creators making their designs free to use, ordering a custom PCB couldn’t be easier, or cheaper for that matter, often costing as little as $10.
If you’ve always wondered what it takes to create your very own custom-built DIY smartwatch, then take a look at some of these brilliant smartwatch projects.
1. Slimline ESP32 Smartwatch
Building your own smartwatch can be tricky when it comes to fitting all the necessary components into such a small format. If you need some motivation to tackle this problem, then look no further than DIY maker Stephen Hawes, whose infectious excitement over building a smartwatch is impossible to ignore.
The reason why he’s so enthusiastic about his smartwatch design is that the end result rivals the commercially available Pebble smartwatch in size and form. Considering the components, it’s relatively simple: all you need is a screen, battery, and an ESP32 for wireless communication. The difficult part comes when testing the circuit with a breadboard, which requires some milling to create an interface between the ESP32 and the breakout board. After that, designing a custom PCB is the next big challenge, especially if you’ve never done it before.
You might want to read a few tips on soldering before starting this project, as the parts that need soldering are near microscopic. Additionally, a 3D printer is used in this project to print a case for the smartwatch. However, if you don’t mind exercising a bit of patience and care, the result is a beautifully slim smartwatch topped with capacitive touch functions.
2. ESP8266 Smartwatch With Home Automation
Custom PCBs are usually used in small, compact builds, which means knowing how to design and manufacture your own printed circuit board. Luckily, some DIY electronic designers like Shyam Ravi have taken the hard work and done it for you.
Everything you need, from PCB schematics and Gerber files, is available on GitHub alongside an easy-to-follow tutorial on YouTube and Instructables. The necessary components include a battery, three tactile buttons, and an OLED display, while some of the other components include transistors and micro USB ports that can be salvaged from old electronic devices—a brilliant way to curb electronic waste.
By the end of this project, you will have a smartwatch that not only tells the time but also grabs weather updates and can control your lights with a touch of home automation programming. The latter uses the Blynk server which you could potentially use to program other home automation systems. The only thing not covered is a case to fit all your electronics together, so we suggest heading to Thingiverse to search for your favorite 3D printing design.
3. ESP32 Smartwatch Complete With Laser and Torch
The beauty of building your own smartwatch is getting to add exactly what functions you want. In this case, Gabriel McFarlane saw a need to build his watch complete with a laser and torch—and thus he did.
Setting this project aside from the others is the ESP32 TTGO development board available from LILYGO. It has an onboard battery management system, as well as an integrated display, which means fewer components to worry about soldering. There are no custom PCBs required here.
With lots of trial and error, a 3D printed watch case was designed, printed, and assembled using brass tubing at the strap joints to hold it together (a nice touch). Another interesting choice was the use of flexible TPU for the 3D printed watch straps, which is great for replicating traditional plastic straps. The only downside is that it can be an expensive addition to the project. If you prefer to opt out of this route, you can make a strap out of spare elastic or an old watch strap instead.
Aside from the hardware components, this tutorial will also walk you through the coding step-by-step, making it easy for you to build yourself a DIY smartwatch.
4. Arduino Smartwatch
Sometimes you just want your smartwatch to do a few key things well and for that, this project is perfect. By the end of the tutorial, you will have a smartwatch that can tell you the time, date, and temperature, alongside when you have notifications on your phone. This simple design is reminiscent of retro digital Seiko watches, but with the added Bluetooth function, a buzzer, and an LED, it comes much closer to the smartwatches we see today.
Once again the design relies on a custom PCB, which you can find on the project website. The integrated microcontroller used here is the Arduino ATmega32, with firmware already compiled to make the smartwatch functional. One nice feature is the use of the Notiduino app, which allows you to select from your phone the notifications that you want to send to your Arduino. These include Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, and Email, to name a few.
While this project doesn’t cover constructing a case for your components, it does provide a great basis for building a smartwatch. If this is your first time attempting a DIY smartwatch, it might just be the perfect place to begin.
DIY smartwatches don’t all have to be function over form. As both an electrical engineer and a product designer, Samson March built a smartwatch that is just as aesthetically pleasing.
The watch case is made using woodfill PLA and a round display, giving it a unique look compared with most other DIY smartwatch designs. If you haven’t tried woodfill PLA filament in 3D printing, you might be surprised to know that it behaves in a similar way to real wood. While it might need some tidying up straight off the printing bed, you can file, sand, and even stain the final product.
You’ll be even more excited to know that the looks aren’t everything. This smartwatch will turn on when you face the watch towards you and has integrated Apple notifications. This is down to the use of a Dialog Semiconductor DA14683 Chip and a custom-built PCB, plus a lot of backend coding.
While building and coding this beautiful watch is not simple, the payoff is definitely worth it. Head over to GitHub to find everything you need, including the components list, code, STL files, and schematics.
Building Your Own DIY Smartwatch
From the simplest designs to the more advanced ones, building your own smartwatch is an incredibly satisfying project.
You can choose to stick to the instructions and copy one of the fantastic designs listed here, or you could launch into designing your own smartwatch. The availability of detailed documentation means that there is plenty of electronic schematics, code, and 3D printing files for you to remix.
And if at the end of it all you don’t feel like soldering many tiny parts together, then you can always skip straight to the programming with a smartwatch assembly kit like Watchy.
Automate your life with these low-cost, straightforward DIY projects.
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