Apr. 10, 2015 | By Alec

Unless you’ve been avoiding the internet altogether, it has been almost impossible to miss the gigantic promotional campaign for the upcoming Apple Watch that seems to have been dominating technology websites everywhere. You might thus be aware of the fact that its preoder stage launches today, but wait! You don’t have to order one and blend in with the rest of the world’s Apple users. Why not 3D print yourself a retro Apple II watch and hit the streets with a sensational tribute to the 1980s?

If that sound’s exciting, then this 3D printing project is definitely something for you. Developed by Instructables designer Aletor777, this cool watch looks like a cross between the classic Apple computers and a wrist calculator. The rectangular body, dubiously grey color and the classic knob all contribute to a very impressive watch design. It’s a perfect way of saying that we shouldn’t neglect or forget the technological history that precedes our current lives, and with Alettor’s handy tutorial you can even build one yourself.

Of course, the most important question is: what can it do and what drives it? Well in a nutshell, the Apple II is powered by a Teensy 3.1 ARM processor, complete with a 4.572 cm screen that features a Matrix-esque green and black interface. Its green-black interface is navigated through a 4.572 cm screen. Using the winding knob, it comes with a couple of fun basic features, including a clock, a fitness function, a photo library (that cycles through a selection of bitmaps), a phonebook, a weather function that doesn’t do anything,  and animated music feature and a disk manager. Now don’t get too excited about that final option, as all it does is blink the LEDs of the disk drive a couple of times. The battery itself also only lasts three hours, so this watch doesn’t exactly deserves the title of smartwatch, but its nonetheless a very cool project.

As Alettor explained, he initially wanted to make a tiny replica of the classic Apple computer to fit on his wrist, though the project grew further since then. ‘While researching the design I began to ask if I really just wanted to make a miniature, or something altogether new? I settled on the latter. The design would be a working* device, heavily inspired by the form factor of the full size computer, but it would also be an imaginative exploration of a wearable tech world that began long before we had the technology to do so in a meaningful way,’ he explains. At its heart however, it’s a parody of the upcoming watch. ‘My version does keep and display the real time and date, the rest of the UI is mostly for fun. I considered spending the time to add a BASIC interpreter, but the return on my time would be diminishing.’

The project itself took about a month to complete (three weeks of casual work on design and circuitry, the remaining week on programming), but can be copied at a considerably faster rate. If you would like to try this for yourself you will, however, need a considerable number of hardware pieces: a Teensy 3.1 processor, a 1.8 inch TFT LCD screen, a SOMO II MP3, a LiPo charger, two push buttons, a rotary encoder, a small speaker, some LEDs, a 88 mAh LiPo battery, an SD card a cartload of wires, screws and so on. But if you’d like to give it a try, head over to Alettor’s Instructables page for more details and all the downloadable and 3D printable files you need.

As you can imagine for such a small package, electronic assembly can be a bit of challenge. ‘Since I had so little space, the entire circuit uses point to point wiring using stranded wire. Ultimately this proved to cause a few headaches (more on this later), so I settled on solid core wire, despite it being a bid harder to compress into the case. The electronics are ultimately wrapped in electrical tape in order to prevent shorting when squished together,’ Alettor explains. For copying this setup (and making it all fit!), be sure to closely follow the datasheet that can be found on Instructables. In terms of software, the watch is quite simple. It features a simply Arduino sketch running on the Teensy, for which all the libraries and files have been provided. The rotary encoder is the watch’s main user interface, which runs on an interrupt-based system to switch between functions.

While this might seem like a piece of cake for experienced electric engineers, Alettor himself ran into a couple of problems during this entire process. ‘I neglected to do continuity testing throughout my circuit in a hunt for shorted connections. A wary power wire on the MP3 module had wiggled toward the adjacent ground pin, frying my circuit. Damn,’ he says. ‘Thankfully, Adafruit's powerboost circuit had spared me the misfortune of a directly shorted LiPo battery, the built-in over current protection was up to spec!’ So learn from his mistakes!

3D printing itself is fairly straightforward, though most of us won’t be able to rely on an Objet Connex 3D printer as the original designer has done. While a regular desktop 3D printer might not produce such smooth results, all the files should be easily repeatable. After 3D printing, all the pieces were coated in Montana brand primer, followed by a coat of "Elm" colored paint. ‘This was the closest approximation I could find at my local art supply store to the "classic" sickly beige color of electronics circa 1985,’ Alettor explains. Optionally, you can now make the floppy discs from the provided stickers for fun, though they don’t actually add a function to the watch themselves.

So what are you waiting for? It could take months to get an Apple Watch, but this far cooler and high original piece can be yours in just a couple of days.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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