Bluetooth Low Energy for Ubiquitous Connectivity
Bluetooth low energy technology appears to be just around the corner and when it finally makes its entrance the whole world of connectivity will move up a notch. We might think that we live in a highly connected world, but if Bluetooth low energy lives up to its many promises, then connectivity will become truly ubiquitous.
In this hub we will look at the fundamental aspects of Bluetooth low energy technology, see how it is being and will be applied, and look at some of its implications.
The fundamental property of Bluetooth low energy is that it consumes only a small fraction of the energy consumed by standard Bluetooth devices. The objective is to make devices run for a whole year or longer when powered by a tiny button cell and with no need to recharge it.
This means that all kinds of devices such as thermometers, heart rate sensors, and environmental monitors will be able to communicate continuously with other Bluetooth devices such as a mobile phone without any interruption.
Already two companies have produced Bluetooth low energy semiconductor chipsets. These are Nordic Semiconductors and Texas Instruments and the first generation of chips was made available in April 2009.
The original concept predated that by several years and as the concept evolved it has taken on and discarded various names. The first name for it was Wibree, which was changed to Bluetooth Ultra-Low Power and which was subsequently changed to its present name.
Bluetooth Low Energy and Sports Fitness
As explained, the objective of Bluetooth low energy is to permit the transfer of data between devices very efficiently. An good example of how this will be used can be found in sports training where information on various parameters such as heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels would be beneficial to both the person undertaking the training and the coach.
The athlete would wear a sensor device (say a sports watch) which would monitor all these vital signs and using Bluetooth low energy it would transfer the data to a mobile phone carried by the athlete automatically and the mobile phone would upload the data directly to the internet, all without any intervention.
The data could be recorded on a database for subsequent examination, or it could be monitored in real time by the coach.
Naturally this could be extended to many other activities and has important implications in health care and in the care of the elderly.
Why it is Different from Conventional Bluetooth Technology
Although Bluetooth Low Energy is a protocol that is built on conventional Bluetooth there are also some fundamental differences. When designing it the engineers scrapped conventional Bluetooth wisdom and redesigned the new protocol from scratch.
Conventional Bluetooth is relatively power hungry (think of the limited talk time of your Bluetooth headset) whilst this new technology consumes hardly any power at all.
Although considerable investment has been made in developing Bluetooth low energy, and this has cost implications, the Bluetooth chip sets will be relatively inexpensive. Whilst some devices such as the sensors will employ just low energy, low cost, Bluetooth protocol chips, mobile phones will be equipped with dual mode chips which will be no more expensive than the Bluetooth chips used currently.
What Other Devices will be connected?
The first example given above of sports training is just one of the ways in which Bluetooth low energy technology will be deployed. Also in the sports mode it is anticipated that it will be incorporated into golf clubs for real time monitoring of a golf player’s swing; into tennis rackets, cricket and baseball bats; into smart training shoes; in fact anywhere where the feedback of data might be of benefit.
Imagine a televised tennis match between two professionals and consider how detailed information relayed from their tennis rackets could be used to make the television coverage that more exciting.
We have already alluded to healthcare applications, and another of these is monitoring the blood sugar levels of a diabetes sufferer or the blood drug levels of someone undergoing chemotherapy.
We are likely to find the technology in household gadgets, in the next generation of computer games; the potential applications are endless.
A Life Changing Technology
There is little doubt that once Bluetooth low energy arrives it will be life changing. We will be connected to just about everything and everything will have become a lot smarter.
It has been some years getting here and it might be a few more before it really takes off, but when it does we will certainly know about it.