Smarty Ring provides “alerts right on your finger”

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ring

Note: this photo does not even remotely represent the actual dimensions of the product.

Link to Indiegogo

The Smarty Ring Indiegogo campaign ended this week smashing its fundraising goal amid a huge flurry of interest in the final stretch.  Unfortunately, as stated at the top of their project description “All pictures shown here are conceptual design”

One Ring…

Despite its cheesy sounding name, the Smarty Ring advertises an incredible number of features in an incredibly small package.  Connecting to your phone via Bluetooth, it can display your important alerts on its dual tiny displays or control phone apps remotely.  It can also display the time.  Oh, and it can also unlock your phone using NFC.  Almost forgot that it’s wirelessly charged and made from high grade surgical steel.  Oh yeah, it also vibrates.  And it beeps. And it’s waterproof.

And there’s currently no working prototype.

There’s a lot about this project that is very implausible, but unlike some projects, we were surprised to find a few details that kept us from calling this a blatant scam outright.  It’s not much, but there is one detail of their project page that leads us to believe that these guys are at the very least dangerously optimistic about their capabilities and not actively trying to screw a bunch of people over.  The detail is this:

20131114145731-pcbdesign

The inclusion of an actual flexible circuit layout is something you wouldn’t expect to find on a page for a fake project.  It takes a lot of work and knowledge to create something like this, and it’s not as though they would have lost a substantial number of backers had they not included it.

20131114151227-pcblyout2

This image shows one of the outer layers of the flex circuit.  Just looking at the copper traces, we can discern a few pieces of information (big thanks to readers John C. and Hamasaki for your help):

  • (A) and (B) are their bluetooth radio and associated chip antenna.  The radio is an nRF51822 which is a low power bluetooth solution that includes an ARM M-0 processor which is probably all they need for the simple functions of the smart ring.  The antenna is properly isolated from the rest of the circuit.
  • (D) is some kind of high speed clock crystal (probably 16 or 32MHz). Conspicuously absent is any sort of low frequency clock source especially for a device advertising its capability as a clock.  A low frequency clock would allow it to keep time accurately while drawing a tiny 1 microamp of current.  With the high speed oscillator, this shoots up to around 500 times that.  That amount of current will burn through over half of its 22mAh battery over the course of a day, and that’s not counting energy spent operating the radio, vibrator, speaker, or display.
  • (C) are dual AMS AS1130 display drivers. These are probably the best component on the market right now for powering LED matrix displays on small portable electronics, and they appear to be hooked up correctly.
  • (E) are a mystery at the moment.

Now for the other side:

20131114151337-pcb

  • (A) is of course the LED display matrix.  It has an 11×24 resolution and maxes out the capabilities of the dual display drivers.
  • (B) are tactile switches that allow user interaction.
  • (C) are a bunch of LEDs that presumably backlight the little alert icons on the other side of the ring.  It looks like they’ve opted for a 3×2 layout instead of the 6×1 as shown in their project description.

So I hope that didn’t bore you too much with details.  The point is, I went into this little exercise expecting to find either a completely garbage circuit design or maybe a design for a different product that they slipped in hoping nobody would take the time to look carefully.  Instead I found a completely plausible partial circuit layout.  I say partial, because as shown, this circuit only has a display, bluetooth, and buttons.  There are a few very important things they are leaving out.

…to fool them all

Alright, so as implied before, there is a LOT about this project that is totally impossible.  I’d love to craft my concerns into a neat concise set of paragraphs with a clear direction and beginning and end, but that’s just not going to be possible with how much I have to say about this project.  You’ll have to settle for this:

Bluetooth

While we’ve verified that the Bluetooth radio is in fact a real thing, they are going to have a supremely difficult time getting that radio to transmit through .5mm of surgical steel.  Every other metal wireless product on the market has a small window for the radio antenna or has found some way to hide it behind the screen.  Even the copper traces inside a circuit board will cause problems, so antennas are usually placed on an isolated portion of the board.  As the above layout shows, they haven’t hidden the radio behind the screen, so they must be trying to transmit Bluetooth through .5mm of steel.  In the radio industry, their ring could be called a “Faraday cage”, and with this kind of setup, it will absolutely block 100% of the radio signals transmitted to or from the ring.  Consider that Bluetooth operates at a similar frequency as your microwave and then look at what the walls of the microwave are made out of.

The only way to fix this is going to be cutting out a window which will certainly mar the aesthetics of the design promised.

Wireless charging

Smarty Ring isn’t the first wirelessly powered ring I’ve seen.  Ben Kokes designed an illuminated engagement ring for his fiancee that lights up when placed near its power source.  He discovered something while working that perhaps the Smarty Ring folks don’t know about:

Care had to be taken while stuffing the coil into the ring. When I first tried it, I apparently forgot how induced magnetic fields cause currents within a metal ring, causing the field to cancel out of the intended inductor coil. This is why a slit is required in the titanium ring.

Without digging into the underlying Maxwell’s equations, inductive charging works by passing magnetic fields through a loop of wire.  When the direction of the field changes, the electrons in this loop are compelled to travel around the loop.  A clever circuit can use this moving charge as an energy source.  The problem with Smarty Ring is that the electrons will take the path of least resistance, and the charge in the thick metallic conducting loop of the ring’s body will be compelled to move far sooner than in the wire loops of the antenna that would charge the battery.  When this happens, the ring will begin to warm up, and the battery will remain dead.

They claim to be solving this problem as follows:

antenna

I was originally under the impression that the charger was going to power the ring by passing a magnetic field through its hole (like Ben’s ring), but it sounds like they are actually going to have a flat antenna hidden behind their screen.  While it’s better than having the antenna completely encased in steel, the ring’s body is still going to absorb almost all of the energy passed through it considering that at best the antenna is only 2-3mm away from the conducting steel back wall.

Assuming they can prevent that from happening though (perhaps by bait-and-switching their way to a plastic or otherwise non-conductive enclosure body), a quick estimation based on a document from TI indicates that they should be able to get enough power through an 8x8mm coil to charge the ring in a reasonable amount of time.

Sizing and stackup

Obviously fitting a circuit into a ring is a difficult task.  Based on the known size of the nRF51822, the circuit layout they’re showing is about 7.5mm tall and 56mm wide.  Assuming the board doesn’t overlap itself, this circuit would work in a ring with a diameter greater than 17.8mm or size 8 and up.  Apparently Smarty Ring comes in sizes 5, 6, and 7 which would require the circuit board to be reduced in size by about 12%.  While they can probably reduce the size by at least that much,  their circuit board doesn’t show the battery management circuitry, wireless charging circuitry, speaker, vibration motor, or NFC components.

It still makes one wonder why they would bother creating a layout that they know is too big for some of the ring sizes they’re supporting.  Maybe they’re counting on people actually using their ring sizing guide which has no method for setting the scale when it’s printed out.

The ring is 13mm long and 4mm thick and apparently the walls are 0.5mm:

steel wall

That leaves 3mm for everything else.  The nRF51822 bluetooth chip is 0.5mm high, and on the other side of the board, there’s the AS1130 display driver which has a height of 0.36mm.  Add the thickness of the flex circuit board and that’s just about a whole millimeter there.  For the battery to fit, it would need to be 2mm thick.

Battery

The first thing we like to ask when we hear about any kind of small portable electronic device is “what kind of battery does it use?”, and with a device with such an intense form factor as this, it’s a critical question to ask.

As stated above, they have something like 2mm of space to work with between their electronic components and sidewalls.  This is about the thickness of a US penny.  I was convinced at first that there was no way to cram a 22mAh battery into such a small space, but now I’m not so sure.

PowerStream is one company that sells a collection of small and ultra thin bendable rechargeable lithium polymer batteries.  One of their products, the PGEB021235 boasts a 40mAh capacity and is only 2x12x35mm.  Furthermore, their batteries are apparently very flexible as shown in this (very low resolution) image:

thin-bent-2

Unlike some entirely asinine electronic ring concepts, the Smarty Ring’s power requirements are actually pretty slim.  They’re only advertising a single day of active use, and 22mAh is more than enough to cover that as long as you aren’t lighting up the display every 2 seconds.

There’s still the matter of fitting the battery management circuitry in there and finding a way to solder it to the PCB, but their specifications aren’t entirely outside the realm of reality.

Misleading graphics

I think one of the factors that lead to my initial major skepticism over this product was how the ring was portrayed in its images.  The  ring is 13mm long which makes the size 5 ring almost as long as it is wide.  This is a little hard to picture since it strays so far from a normal ring’s dimensions, and it’s especially difficult when just about every blog who reported on the ring used the more attractive and completely inaccurate mockups that showed a thinner ring:

smartycollage

Although it severely impacts the ring’s aesthetics, the 13mm length does make a lot more room for things like the wireless charging antenna and battery.  Also, where it’s shown closer to scale, the relative size of the ring to the display does seem accurate.

clock

Of course, if the ring is really 4mm thick, then this guy’s ring finger is approximately 28mm (1.1 inches) wide.  Here’s an image with a penny superimposed for scale:

penny4scale

This has to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever made for this blog.

If you’re curious, here’s what a size 5 ring looks like to scale with what they specified:

smartycad

Looks a little uncomfortable.  My college ring is only 2.3mm thick between my fingers and even that can be annoying at times.

I get the feeling that if their 3D models actually reflected the dimensions they specified, this ring wouldn’t have been nearly as popular despite the fact that they call out their specific dimensions in their project description.

Pricing and shipping date

It’s getting a little tiresome writing about yet another project with an unreasonably accelerated shipping date, so I’m going to be brief.

This product will not be delivered on time.  Five months isn’t remotely long enough to create a product that is this sophisticated.  Heck, it’s barely long enough to create any electronic device ready for mass production.  It’s especially difficult when all they have right now is a circuit board layout and a few totally inaccurate 3d models.

They also only asked for $40,000 which would have been 228 units.  Assume a gaussian distribution for finger sizes and they could be making fewer than a dozen rings at some sizes with that kind of order size.  Completely ridiculous.

Of course they actually raised $300,000.  About that…

Some serious buzz

I saw Smarty Ring for the first time a few weeks ago, but didn’t think much of it.  The project didn’t have a lot of interest, and we try not to spend too much time covering projects that nobody is interested in.  This week however, we received three separate emails about the ring within a five hour period and decided to look at it.  Surprisingly, it surpassed its fundraising goal more than seven times over by the time it ended at midnight the evening of Dec 11.  I was disappointed that we let this project slip under the radar, but there may be a good reason why we weren’t looking out for it.

There isn’t a crowd funding analytics site like Kicktraq available for Indiegogo, but I can still piece together a few details by looking at some news publications:

  • $6,500 – 3 days, 11 hours remaining (Dec 8 at 12:59pm from Mashable)
  • $33,968 – 2 days 0 hours remaining (Dec 10 at 12:00am from NDTV)
  • $120,000 – 1 day 4 hours remaining (Dec 10 at 7:52pm from Gizmag)
  • $223,436 – 12 hours remaining (Dec 11 at 12:00pm from TechRadar)
  • $299,824 – 0 hours remaining

The times might not be perfectly accurate, but one thing is certain: these guys raised a LOT of money in not a lot of time.  Especially surprising considering how little they had just 4 days from the end of their 4 day campaign.

ron

I couldn’t find anything suspicious about how they pulled this off as Indiegogo only lets you see a small portion of the 1,568 backers which consists of the usual selection of newbie, veteran, and anonymous supporters.  I guess the crowdsourcing media echo chamber should pat itself on the back.  Raising $1 per second for almost four days straight is no easy feat.

Can they do it?

This is the one question that I think most people come to this blog to have answered.  This time, it’s a little more difficult because we have no idea who “they” are.

This team is based in Chennai, India, and apparently they’re being very secretive on purpose.  In an interview with CBC News, the team refused to divulge any of their personal information except that the project was founded by someone named Ashok Kumar and has a team of people specializing in robots and nanotechnology.  Unfortunately, sharing a name with a famous Indian actor from the 60s has made it very difficult to dig up any information on this guy.  Seems like it’s the cool thing to name your kid if he was born in the past half century.  Also, there’s this guy, but he’s just finished college, and he specializes in marketing and SEO, so we can’t learn much from him.  They offer this explanation for their secrecy:

patent

So knowing nothing about the team, could anyone do it?

No.  There simply isn’t enough time or money to pull it off.  Major issues like working out wireless charging on a metal ring, ramping up a factory that produces 10 different sizes (each requiring their own special tooling), and making this thing waterproof are not in the least bit trivial, and without some evidence to suggest otherwise, I’m going to assume that it can’t be done.

Furthermore, what little work they have shown will likely have to be redone as it doesn’t include major necessary components of their product, and their pathetically low funding goal speaks volumes about their product development experience in general.

I think that parts of it can be accomplished though.  While we won’t see anything until long after the delivery date, I think that this team could some day deliver something that demonstrates some of the features of the ring.  The metal case will probably be dropped for a plastic one.  The piezo vibration motor and maybe speaker/buzzer will go as well.  NFC, which was only mentioned in a comment, will probably never make it to the device either.  Doesn’t seem like a whole lot for $175.

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{ 29 comments to read ... please submit one more! }

  1. Good write up, especially the technical details. I tried to initiate a dialogue with the project creators to give more evidence they could actually complete this, but couldn’t get anywhere. I notice you don’t talk much about the separate charging station – which would significantly add to the project cost.
    I don’t think this is completely impossible to create, but the constraints of time and multiple ring sizes make it pretty unbelievable unless they already have made some prototypes – but they obviously haven’t. Yet they told me they had already sourced parts (whatever that means – could just be finding suppliers, not actual purchasing).
    The response re privacy and patents was just another diversion. They’d be crazy not to have applied for patents before publicly announcing this.
    As I wrote in the project comments, I predict this will be about a year late, and what is delivered won’t be anything like what people think they are backing (assuming this isn’t a complete scam).
    I think Indiegogo really need to lift their game, or no one will continue backing their projects for much longer. Unfortunately they typical 1+ year delay on project delivery might let them earn plenty before that happens.

  2. I’m the guy behind the NFC Ring. There is no way this project was legit, each backer has lost their money :( Sorry guys!

  3. PS this is a seriously brilliant write up and analysis, if you want to get in touch to discuss some of the more complex technical bits directly feel free to email me or bump me on skype :)

  4. hey I got quoted :)

    there are also numerous other things but you got enough of them to show that it won’t work. (yours alone is enough to show it won’t work) here is a short list of a few more.

    1. They are using the Ql standard of charging (so they say) which is at about 200 khZ and a 8mm by 8mm set of wires has serious sizes issues as that standards rx antennas are much larger.

    2. look at the 11 by 24 led Array. Look at the size of the smallest Led (fitmit issues) and how to wire them. How much power they take and so on. Led light bleed over also comes into play.

    3. That battery size you quoted. 9is flat only, 0.5mm needs to be for curved) A ring with just half the power would take up over half the size of the ring. 9at 2mm thick) Plus width wise would require customization as its not a off the shelf competent. They say its all available on Alibaba. well that battery is not. They say they use a 0.4mm thick battery (which to make it flexible you have to be about 0.5mm anyways) and at that size the battery is much larger surface area than the ring alone.

    4. The flexible glass. 0-.5 1mm thick glass? (they say its glass) they have glass that as far as I know does not exist straight let alone curved. I have had custom watches made for me that use Sapphire crystal so I have some background there.

    5. the charger is a custom charger, they say they can make a plastic mold for 500 dollars that is production quality?

    6. for 70 dollars you can get the ring with a clock, BLE, inductive charging, tracker, and ohh yeah the charging unit. No comment needed here.

    7. When caught with a difficult question they erase the comments? I never knew a crowd funding site could do that so easy.

    etc….

  5. Great site and write-up. The only thing I can add to the discussion is about revelation of their identities being held back due to patent applications.

    While I don’t know the intricacies of the Indian patent system, in most of the rest of the world priority is given based on disclosure of the patent information itself and public knowledge of the identity of the inventors prior to the application date is irrelevant. Amusingly, by revealing the project and presumably the inventive step to the world on Indiegogo, they have thrown away their right to the possibility of a patent; their revelation being prior art in the public domain which means that they do not fulfil the criteria of novelty, or newness.

    Of course this depends on the exact technology that they are applying for a patent for, but it still doesn’t mean that revealing their identities would have any negative effect on applying for said patent.

    Weird….

  6. Nice writeup! I’m glad you cover IndieGogo as well as Kickstarter.

  7. Indiegogo advertised a new project to me last night. Another electric ring project from India: FIN

    http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fin-wearable-ring-make-your-palm-as-numeric-keypad-and-gesture-interface

    All doubts to SmartyRing also apply to FIN and I found FIN has more strange stuff:

    * FIN chooses classic Bluetooth instead of BLE. http://www.microchip.com/wwwproducts/Devices.aspx?dDocName=en558328 . The team probably don’t know that BLE is much suitable for wearable devices in both power-saving, space and cost.
    * None of motion sensor alike components found on the prototype pictures.
    * They claims FIN will be IP67 class water proof. As I know, that certification fee may take quite a lot portion of their funding goal.

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  9. Please alert buyers of the same kind of SCAM. The Indiegogo project “MOTA SmartRing” (http://igg.me/at/mota-smart-ring/x/4865795).

    It is a rewrite of the same Ring with almost impossible to create features.

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  17. Just wanted to point out for the record that the nRF51822 has a built-in 32 KiHz RC oscillator that is more than capable of keeping track of time. No crystal required for that. You’d simply sync up with the phone at regular intervals to adjust for drift. The chip uses very little power in that state. The only real power consumer would be the display.

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