Smartwatches are the gadgets of the year, but with their myriad of features and options crammed into one dainty device, it can feel like they're controlling us more than we're controlling them.
But now a team of bioengineer graduates from Imperial College London have developed a customizable wrist-bound wearable. Dubbed the "world's first modular smartwatch," the Blocks device comes with various modules the user can plug to make the gadget specific to their needs, from extra battery life and GPS navigation, to heart rate monitor and gesture control.
Having raised a whopping $1.6 million on the Kickstarter campaign, the team behind Blocks plan to roll it out by June next year. Metro spoke with Ali Tahmaseb, co-creator of the device, to learn more about customized wearable tech.
Q: There are already many different smartwatches on the market. What makes Blocks special?
-- It already offers more features than any other smartwatch. We are starting with a small selection of modules, which together already prevail in functionality over most smartwatches. Both GPS and near-field communication are seen only in a handful of devices. Extra battery is a unique module that addresses the biggest drawback of wearables. Blocks’ heart rate module will take constant readings to give 24/7 pulse data, unlike most other Android Wear smartwatches that only take readings on demand. Ultimately, as more modules will be developed, Blocks will have the largest offering of features of any other smartwatch on the market.
Q: So, with Blocks you'll be constantly adding updated modules?
-- Exactly. It's built ground up to be a watch that stands the test of time, avoiding the punishingly brief upgrade cycles of modern technology. That's something that a lot of premium smartwatches have been criticized over. Blocks will adapt with user’s changing needs and evolving technology. And save them money in the process as they will be able to upgrade the watch module by module.
Q: How do the modules work?
-- Each module is smart on its own. It collects the information from the sensors that is inside that module and sends it via a data-line back to the 'core' (the round display module). The connector between the modules makes sure the connection is stable and robust both electrically and mechanically.
Q: What features do the modules offer?
-- The 'core' has a full touch screen, activity tracking, 400mah of battery, a microphone for voice navigation and voice memos, it connects to your phone via Bluetooth or the newtork via WiFi and has all the apps and notifications of other smartwatches. There are five modules in the first phase: Extra battery, GPS, Heart Rate, Contactless Payments, and Adventure (temperature and pressure and altitude). In the next phases there will be SIM Module, Speaker, Programmable Button, Stress Level, Gesture Control, Fingerprint, Camera, etc.
Q: Why did you decide to develop Blocks as an open platform?
-- Open software platforms, such as iOS and Android, are the single most important reason for success of smart gadgets as they allowed thousands of developers to build countless number of apps for specific use cases. In contrast to smartphones, the excitement for wearables is driven by their potential to augment experiences via sensors that are embedded in them - i.e. the hardware. Blocks is an open platform, allowing any company or individual not only to develop apps but also to build modules for very specific applications.
Q: Would you like to compete with Apple Watch?
-- Blocks is a whole new culture and a new way of looking into technology. We attract users who like choice, customization, more features and sensors. We have seen a lot attention from owners of current smartwatches. They like to pre-order Blocks on Kickstarter now since they are tired of short life cycles and expensive upgrades for their current smartwatches.
Q: Do you have a prevision to launch it on the market?
-- Yes, we are already in talks with distributors and telecom carriers around the world to sell through their shops after we have shipped to our Kickstarter backers. The estimated shipping date is June 2016 and the cost will be US$295.
To learn more about the Blocks device, visit www.chooseblocks.com.