Bluetooth In The Smart Home and
the Things That Build It

National Hardware Show is a New Home for Bluetooth

I just got back from the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. It was big…I mean REALLY big. Think of it as the CES of hardware—and when I say hardware, I mean things you use to actually build structures or hammer in a nail. Think of it as the place where Lowes, ACE, Home Depot, and every other do-it-yourself store sends buyers, as well as larger contracting companies who need to procure equipment for their jobs. Everything was at this show, including new buying opportunities, merchandising ideas and solutions, money-saving deals and face-to-face networking opportunities. Like I said, the CES of actual, honest-to-goodness hardware.

It was an eye-opening experience to see so many things (outside of my technology space) with built-in Bluetooth technology. Measuring tapes?  Check. Drills?  Check. Angle finders?  Check. Plus, you had all of the things you would normally expect in a smart home (lighting, heating systems, locks, windows sensors, etc.).

I was invited to the show by GE (thank you GE, I had a blast) to talk about the smart home, technologies in the smart home, and how Bluetooth could be used to get your products ready for the growing smart home world. It was a great panel with myself, Tom Stimac (Chief Innovation Manager for GE Lighting), and Jeff Patton (Connected Home & Innovation Product Management Lead for GE Lighting).

The panel discussion centered on technology and how it can be an enabler for manufacturers. Specifically, how GE is using Bluetooth and lighting as the gateway into smart homes. According to Tom, the average home has 42 lights in it…42!  If those lights had some intelligence, and could talk to each other, you could create a whole-home network…and that it exactly what they are using Bluetooth for. Add mesh to the mix, and now you have the backbones for a truly smart home that doesn’t need an expensive gateway or any other equipment to get up and running. It’s Bluetooth, so you can control the entire array via your phone or tablet, and then add pieces to it as you want (no need to buy an entire system or pay monthly fees to have someone ‘maintain’ it). This is what consumers want—no one wants to buy a bunch of stuff they may not use, and no one wants to be locked into one vendor’s system. With Bluetooth (and soon mesh) you have choices, and all the devices will work with each other seamlessly.

These are the reasons GE is betting on Bluetooth for their smart home solutions, and the reason why the smart home industry is so excited about Bluetooth.

Audience questions were fun as well. Here is a quick recap:

What technologies is Bluetooth bringing to the market we should be aware of?

When you look at Bluetooth, there are four technologies that will reach the market very soon that will help the IoT and device ‘connectedness’ in general.

The first was just released, the Transport Discovery Service. As a technology, Bluetooth does an excellent job at device discovery. These mechanisms are being made available to other protocol to help them discover each other and connect.

Next, we have two additions to the core technology specification:

  • Longer range—the range of Bluetooth with low energy features is set to increase up to 4x, will transform smart home and infrastructure applications, and will deliver an extended, more powerful connection for full-home or outdoor use cases
  • Higher speed—a 100% increase in speed, without increasing energy consumption, will enable faster data transfers in critical applications, such as medical devices, increasing responsiveness and lowering latency

And the final big technology is the addition of mesh networking. Mesh networking will enable Bluetooth devices to connect together in networks that can cover an entire building or home, opening up home and industrial automation applications.

Beyond these, there are other technologies, like Bluetooth headless gateways and the ability to add this type of technologies directly to routers, which are opening up the IoT for developers and Bluetooth.

What really makes a smart home smart?

Context and orchestration, let me explain. Most people equate the smart home to being able to just intelligently turn something on or off, but it’s much more than that.

  • Context – the smart home knows who I am and where I am
  • Orchestration – the smart home allows for several different devices to act together to perform some task or a set of tasks

For example, coming home after work, you unlock your door using your phone. The door then sends a message to the smart home that you are home, and your entry way and hall lights come on. The radio comes on to a station which you listen to in the evening, and the coffee maker starts brewing your favorite cup. Your HVAC system then adjusts the temperature to 70 degrees because it knows you and knows what you like.

The great thing about all of this is that you don’t need to create the entire system. Bluetooth enables you to focus on your core competencies without building the whole thing; you can create your hardware, integrate Bluetooth to add some of this functionality that might pertain to your product, and focus on your piece of the smart home. You don’t need to boil the ocean or be a networking guru to get these things to work. You do what you do well, and add Bluetooth to allow you to take advance of the smart home.

Okay, so what if I don’t want the home to know where I am all the time…that’s freaky…

Yup, it can be freaky. And you can always turn this stuff off. But this is one of those generational things that gets a bit muddled as we talk about smart home users in the future (i.e., they don’t have the same privacy concerns that I might have).

I always enjoy this type of question, because it brings out the futurist in us all.

All in all, I had a blast, and you could see that Bluetooth was starting to integrate itself into this world. When mesh becomes complete, I expect this space to explode. I can’t wait until next year to see all of the new innovation that Bluetooth brings…and I can’t wait to start outfitting my home with these Bluetooth devices to make it truly smart.

Cheers,

Steve

Related Resources

The Expanding Role of Bluetooth in the Smart Home

A discussion of Bluetooth technology's role in the emerging Smart Home market.

Get Started with Building Your First HomeKit Device

Learn more about the Apple HomeKit and its potential for supporting a range of applications using Bluetooth.