Bluetooth LE: The Future is Coming Fast

Bluetooth Blood Pressure Monitor sends results wirelessly to monitor service

A&D Medical Blood Pressure Monitor

By Larry Greenberg for GearDiary.com, 3/4/2011

Bluetooth technology has been slow to be embraced by the public.  The average consumer probably doesn’t know about many Bluetooth enabled devices — other than their headset, which they’ve most likely been forced into wearing by new “hands-free” legislation created in their local jurisdictions.  The simple fact is there aren’t many other devices using Bluetooth in its classic form, and those that do require a good amount of power (re-charging) which makes them inconvenient.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call on Bluetooth and more specifically, Bluetooth Low Energy (LE).  This new specification of wireless connectivity is poised to open the doors to a wide variety of applications and processes, some of which might seem futuristic in nature but in reality are closer to fruition than you think.

The Corrao Group, which is made up of technology industry veterans, just finished hosting their 3rd annual Bluetooth Technology conference.  This year’s meetings were heavily focused on Bluetooth LE.  Manufacturers were present showcasing how they plan to implement this new high tech application.

The key to Bluetooth LE, which unlike the Bluetooth that we’re all used to today, is its “always-off” technology.  This allows designs implemented with Bluetooth LE to achieve unprecedented battery life through the use of small coin-cell batteries.  We’re talking years not hours.  The other hallmark features of Bluetooth LE include low cost and greater range.

Since these new Bluetooth LE chips are so small and so inexpensive, the possibilities for implementing them into everyday consumer products seems endless.  The Nike+ chip which allows users to place a large chip inside the sole of their shoe and track their speed, distance, pace and other statistical information while running might become obsolete.  Instead, imagine buying a pair of sneakers that had a Bluetooth LE chip embedded in the sole (you wouldn’t even know it’s there!), and that chip would do everything the Nike+ chip now does — and more.  Since the battery life of these new chips exceeds the average life span of a pair of running shoes, you’d burn through your shoes before the chip’s battery died; when you did you’d simply buy a new pair of sneakers and they’d have a new chip.

Imagine you have a check up at your doctor’s office, and your doctor’s stethoscope is equipped with Bluetooth LE …  Once your vital signs are taken, the information would automatically be transmitted to the doctor’s computer, updating your chart and records, matching your patient history, medications, known illnesses and more.

Caring for the elderly is an ever-growing concern.  In these troubled economic times, more and more adult children are having to take in their elderly parents, caring for them in their own homes. So in that situation, imagine a pill bottle that’s equipped with Bluetooth LE.  Did your father remember to take his medication?  When he opens the pill bottle, the bottle would send a message, in form of an e-mail or text, letting you know that he’s done so, including the time.  The bottle would also uploads that information to a tracking application that would tabulate his dosages, frequencies etc.

The possibilities for the implementation of Bluetooth LE seem endless.  We could see the technology used in almost any facet of the consumer environment.  From watches, to gaming remote controls, to home appliances to computer peripherals and more.  And these products are coming soon.  The first Bluetooth equipped products could be in the marketplace as soon as 2011 and we could be a plethora of them within 2-4 years.

In a world that’s constantly looking for “greener” options Bluetooth LE is more environmentally friendly too.  Current Bluetooth products require frequent recharging.

I’ve only scratched the surface as to what it might do.  But it won’t succeed unless the public accepts it.  Like any product, adaptation is a vital component to success.  Unless the home users recognizes and need and sees this new form of technology as the answer, growth won’t occur.  With it’s low cost and low energy usage, Bluetooth LE seems to have the necessary components to be successful.

Larry Greenberg – I have always had a passion for gear and gadgets. It all started for me with the release of the very first Palm Pilot. I’ve always had an interest in handheld electronics. From handheld PDAs, to cell phones, Mp3 players, watches and other products, I’m the first person my friends, family and colleagues call when they need advice on tech. I have roots in the online tech. forum community. I served as the Administrator to Howard Forums.com and as a Moderator at both Treo Central.com and Blackberry Forums.net. Under the screen name “lgreenberg” I’ve amassed 50,000+ postings. I also manage my own YouTube channel under the user name larrygreenberg. I’m always eager to help.

Bluetooth LE versus Zigbee

Bluetooth LE vs. Zigbee, by John Donnovan

mHealthTalk Editor: Want more detail? Here’s a technical introduction to Bluetooth LE and comparison with ZigBee, another low-power wireless standard. “Despite its early designs on medical and other ultra-low power applications, ZigBee seems to have homed in on the one application where it’s found commercial success, namely smart metering. Expect it to expand later out the power line to other ‘smart grid’ applications. Meanwhile Bluetooth LE could have a great run in low-power medical applications, where energy efficiency is paramount and cost is apparently no object.”

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