If you’ve seen videos of a word clock in action, you know that it displays the time in a non-traditional manner by lighting up a series of words instead of a dial or numbers. Though this method would likely take some time to get used to, it’s a really unique way of picturing things, and the results of these builds usually look quite nice on a wall.
Recent Harvard computer science grad Harnek Gulati had other ideas for his word clock however. Instead, he made one that was small enough to be worn as a wristwatch. That’s right, his word clock, or rather clocks, measure just 36mm×43mm×7.7mm in the final iteration (shrunk down from the original clock’s 36mm×48mm×14mm).
Gulati’s build started out as an attempt to make an awesome birthday gift for his roomate, as well as get more experience making things. This was his first embedded programming project, but he was helped along by the excellent instructors at his university. He gives them a huge amount of credit for the project, as he needed to learn quite a bit about CAD and embedded circuits, and wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.
Unfortunately, the first watch—version Andrew—was never really worn that much, as it suffered from a short battery life, was too thick to be practical at 14mm, and was a bit fragile. Although the timepiece was certainly appreciated, Gulati eventually realized that his watch could be much better, and decided to try his hand at another one.
The first version wasn’t a complete waste though, as it allowed Gulati to pick up a plethora of maker skills, including manipulating text for the display in CAD (Solidworks) and working with EAGLE to lay out the watch’s PCB. Additionally, he got experience with a laser cutter and 3D printer. Also, since the watch was made as a class project, he was able to get course credit (he got an A).
With the skills he’d picked up building the first version, along with additional experience with a CNC cutting process to improve the watch base, he was able to shrink the watch down to 7.7mm thick. He also improved the battery life with a change in the code and wiring. The second watch is also water resistant, more durable, and has a cleaner design. Two copies of this design—known as version Molly—were made, one for Gulati himself, and another version for Molly, his other roommate.
This second version also has the ability to be set up to display time in Spanish, and can even display the time in a digital fashion, using the letters as dots to form the numbers. This is, as described, “a pretty minimalist interface,” without markings for AM/PM, but you can probably figure that out yourself!
Given the two revisions of this watch, Gulati certainly had his challenges and learning experiences along the way. When asked about what the hardest part was, he notes that:
The hardest part about Andrew’s build was definitely working with how different woods conform to different levels of humidity and wear. Oak, for example, has a high hardness and doesn’t really take to AC glue super well. Oak also tends to morph more with varying levels of humidity. Walnut ended up being perfect for everything I wanted to do.
Sometimes we tend to think in terms of X, Y, Z, but noting how your materials will react under certain circumstances is certainly a good skill to pick up.
Gulati also notes that he made 6 watches in total, only 3 of which were completed with no errors. So if you’re going to make something incredible yourself, don’t be surprised if you end up failing a few times along the way!
So if you’d like to build your own, you can just go through his process: design everything on CAD, make your own PCB, and cut things out with a laser and CNC router. On the other hand, if you simply want one of these watches to have or give away, they’re also available on Kickstarter (with an advertised 2 year battery life and the options of buying it in English, Spanish, or German). With 12 days to go as of this writing, this campaign is over 3x funded, so it appears that Gulati will be quite busy making more of these in the near future!