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Modular smartwatch runs Tizen on Edison

Oct 16, 2014 — by Eric Brown 3,182 views

A startup is prepping a modular “Blocks” watch that runs Tizen on an Atom-based Intel Edison module, and houses modular components in the watchband links.

Samsung’s Tizen-based Gear S, Gear 2, and Gear 2 Neo are no longer the only Tizen-based smartwatches on the planet. A startup called Blocks, inspired by the modular smartphone concept from Phonebloks and Google’s related Project Ara , has announced a modular smartwatch that runs Tizen on an Intel Edison module. The Blocks watch houses modular components in each link of the watch wristband, which can be snapped and unsnapped using plug connectors.

Blocks smartwatch in various styles
(click image to enlarge)

Launched by students at Imperial College in the U.K., Blocks is applying the Phonebloks idea for modular smartphones to watches. In fact, Blocks announced its Blocks watch on the Phonebloks website.

Blocks components
(click image to enlarge)

The Blocks project was a top-10 finalist in Intel’s Make It Wearable challenge out of a field of more than 400 applicants. The contest required wearable prototypes to be based on Intel processors. Blocks received $50,000 from Intel along with “their latest processors!” says the Blocks team. The grand prize winner will get $500,000.

Blocks modular plug connection
(click image to enlarge)

The Edison wasn’t mentioned by Blocks, but an Intel blog entry identified the Blocks device as using Intel’s wearables-oriented computer-on-module. The 35.5 x 25 x 3.9mm Edison incorporates a “Tangier” system-on-chip based on a dual-core Atom Z34xx (“Merrifield”) processor running Linux along with a Quark chip that’s currently inactive.

This is the first Edison project we’ve heard of that runs the Intel- and Samsung-backed, open source Linux Tizen OS. The OS is said to be “based on” Tizen, so it’s unclear if it could run the same Tizen apps that run on the Gear watches.

Customizable watchfaces and wristband styles with Blocks

The current prototype offers display, processor, motion sensor, and temperature sensor blocks. The modular blocks include removable covers, enabling more customization possibilities. Blocks says it is talking with several companies about building a fitness block, a contactless payment block, and a SIM card block. The device will be sold as an open source hardware and software product.

Blocks video


Blocks has posted a notification signup for future pre-sales, as well as a YouTube video (above). Intel posted an additional video about the development of the Blocks watch, as shown below.

Intel video on Blocks

Blocks is planning to ship the watch in late 2015, according to TechCrunch, which says the company is planning a crowdfunding program for 1,000 people that will charge $50 per person. The amount will be deducted from the price of the final watch. The core block with touchscreen, processor, and Bluetooth, will cost between $120 to $150, says the story. Other sensors, such as a heart rate monitor and step counter, will each cost between $20 and $40.

As with the Project Ara/Phonebloks effort, as well as the Jolla phone with its customizable, “The Other Half” backplates, modularity is touted by Blocks as a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and ultimately cost effective approach to technology than replacing your smartphone or watch every 12 to 24 months. Modularity seems to be especially suitable for a smartwatch category that often has different purposes, depending on the user, including fitness, productivity, fashion accessory, or GPS location device.

“Wearable devices are very personal devices, so naturally being able to customise yours would be amazing, as you could make it unique to your own lifestyle!” stated the developers in their announcement. “Also, because smartwatch technology is so new, there are new versions of products being released every few months, so the sustainability angle that modularity brings would also be a huge plus.”

Further information

More information on the Blocks watch, plus signup for notification of pre-sales opportunities, may be found at the Blocks website.

(advertise here)

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2 responses to “Modular smartwatch runs Tizen on Edison”

  1. Andrea Giammarchi says:

    I guess “great minds think alike”

  2. Darragh McCurragh says:

    I always considered the watch band a nuisance which is why I never liked wrist watches. Now the band is turned into something useful too …

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