Smartwatches are full of convenient technology, but they tend to look feel a bit like mini computers. While many consumers love to flaunt their high tech accessories, other people prefer a classic watch for style or sentimental reasons. Young engineers from Warsaw University of Technology started a company called uBirds in 2014 to create a strap that transforms any watch into a connected device. Now they are crowdsourcing their first production run of a watch strap called Unique with a Kickstarter campaign that is more than halfway to a $50,000 goal.
The patent-pending technology includes flexible electronics hidden within handmade Italian leather straps. It includes a programmable near field communication (NFC) tag so that the wristband can be used to store passes, such as gym memberships or hotel keys. Embedded sensors monitor distances, speed, and calories burned, just like a fitness tracker. The straps communicate with smartphones via Bluetooth technology, and then users can set preferences (such as fitness goals) in an app. While wearing the straps, users can control their phones with gesture recognition and taps. (Although it’s hard for us to imagine why you wouldn’t just tap the phone itself, since it has to be nearby in order to work.) Unique sends notifications with vibration alerts and an LED light; one handy feature is that it will alert you if you leave your phone behind.
The strap is powered by a lithium-ion polymer (LiPo) battery that lasts 2-3 days and can be recharged with a wireless inductive charger that will come with it. UBirds says the battery will last two years and unfortunately, it can’t be replaced. So, when the battery dies, so does the entire strap, or at least its “smart” abilities. Another drawback is that the built-in electronics make the straps heavier than a normal leather watch strap. Although the electronics are concealed within the leather, you can clearly see a rectangular outline and extra bulk in the demo video (see above). Still, it’s a pretty slick way to add modern technology to a classic design.