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Bluetooth Smart for connected gadgets

Tue, 01/14/2014 - 4:56pm
Sid Shaw, worldwide business and marketing manager, Texas Instruments

The introduction of Bluetooth low energy technology as part of the Bluetooth specification v4.0 has tremendously expanded the types of products using Bluetooth connectivity. Designed from the very beginning for ultra-low power, Bluetooth low energy uses short bursts of data transmission instead of a continuous stream to extend the battery life to over year on a small CR 2032 coin cell battery. This low power performance combined with a new sensor-based data collection framework, easy RF integration and the fact that Bluetooth low energy technology will be integrated in most handheld devices makes Bluetooth low energy a sought after connectivity option for all kinds of gadgets from wearable’s and medical equipment to home devices and mobile accessories.

Bluetooth Smart (a.k.a. Bluetooth low energy) devices are exploding on the market as developers want to take advantage of the millions of Bluetooth Smart Ready smartphones and tablets that consumer’s carry everywhere with them.  In addition to its low power modes and easier RF integration than other wireless connectivity technologies, Bluetooth Smart is also becoming a technology of choice because of its native support in all major smartphones and tablets as it is now natively enabled in iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry.

In addition, since there are no extra authentication chips needed to make a Bluetooth Smart product talk to any smartphone or tablet, the products are not only flowing from the typical giant companies but also from startups that are using crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to get funded. Products vary from smart watches; fitness monitors and sports equipment to door knobs and proximity detectors, automotive all the way to smart toy planes that can be controlled by tilting the smartphone.

Bluetooth Smart has dramatically shrunk the size and power requirements of sensors able to measure pace, pulse, cadence, distance, and other workout information. Activity monitors like the Fitbit and Misfit Wearble’s Shine are good examples of sleek looking wrist bands that track your activity and help consumers achieve fitness goals. They are very slim (with a small battery) and can run for over one year without battery replacement and have simple ways of wirelessly sending the data to your smartphone/tablet and to the cloud. This trend is likely to continue throughout 2014 with more innovation in creative monitors that just become a part of your daily life without having another device that needs to be constantly charged. In fact, IMS Research states that “More than 60 million sports, fitness and health monitoring devices with Bluetooth technology are expected to ship between 2010 and 2015."

Sports equipment is also adopting Bluetooth low energy technology and sensors to measure information that the athlete cares about and wirelessly sends it to a smartphone and the cloud. Examples include Easton Sports recently announcing Easton Power Sensor, which slips over any baseball bat knob. The collected data is transmitted wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet to give athletes and coaches a simple power rating or power index for each swing. And this is just one example. There are a lot more sports products in the horizon from smart soccer balls to shoes and more.

In actual life critical medical devices, Bluetooth Smart is starting to get integrated into products such as blood glucose meters, blood pressure cuffs, diabetes blood test kits and in non-life critical products such as smart bandages. Bluetooth SIG working groups have already released several profiles for health, fitness and medical device use and others are in process. A good introduction from ConnectBlue on how this space is embracing Bluetooth low energy can be found here.

There are also several use cases of tags powered by Bluetooth low energy. Applications range from a simple tag that serves as a findme button, to more complex use cases of tags being deployed in retail stores or fast food chains to send deals and loyalty information to consumers when they are looking at a product or at a coffee shop to order their regular drink. With the introduction of Apple’s iBeacons, tag applications have gained even more traction. However, this application is not proprietary to Apple and many manufacturers will use Bluetooth low energy for similar usecases.

The smart home space has also embraced Bluetooth low energy technology. Some cool products have emerged from the space including Smartbotics Bluetooth Smart LED bulb, which gives users the ability to turn on/off and dim individual bulbs or clusters of lights in their house with a smartphone or tablet app. Other applications being introduced in the home include smart plugs, remote controls and smart door locks from Kwikset – Kevo.

The automotive space has widely accepted the use of Bluetooth for hands-free calling and is continuing to find ways to connect to the user and connecting via the smartphone seems to be the easiest method. Enabling Bluetooth low energy is certainly on the horizon. Use cases include having the personalized settings of the car stored on your phone all the way to diagnostics and alarms from tire pressure monitors. In addition, OEMs are involved in efforts to get users’ smartphone apps running on the infotainment system of the car. Several car manufacturers have new Bluetooth-enabled systems for smartphone apps in the car and others are looking to add similar functionality. New phone apps are also starting to emerge that communicate wirelessly with a car to monitor and diagnose its mechanical and electrical systems to provide consumers with additional information about their vehicle.

The innovation with Bluetooth Smart products has just begun and the total available market is expected to triple every year for the next couple years. Bluetooth low energy technology is booming today in wearables and other consumer applications, but is also expanding to industrial and in hospital applications further adding to the long list of Bluetooth Smart markets. 2013 was a booming year for Bluetooth low energy technology and with the support of all major OSs the sky’s the limit in 2014 and 2015 as more major OEMs, start-ups, individuals, and students turn to Bluetooth low energy to add wireless connectivity to their devices. What would you add Bluetooth low energy to?

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