Friday, September 18, 2009on
Consider what Canada-based consultant Garth Gutenberg has to say. Mr Gutenberg, who is an expert in the area of home automation, says: “The convenience of Bluetooth in a security device such as a door lock would be amazing,” he says. If the lock itself includes some type of “intrusion detection”, the intrinsic security of the Bluetooth should be sufficient, he explains. “While any wireless technology is subject to potential hacking, this type of lock would be at least as secure as conventional key locks, and Bluetooth would provide greater security than typical garage door openers, which often allow entrance into the main part of the home,” he adds.I love it when people who've never met me refer to me as "an expert". At any rate, it made me want to find the original article, and since the site that I wrote it for is now defunct I decided to hit up the Wayback Machine. And lo and behold, there it was. So, without further adieu, I'm republishing my original article here, mostly out of vanity and because I don't want to lose it again. Just remember when reading it... it's 6 years old. Tech has changed since then. Though most of the concepts I wrote about still haven't found their way to my low-budget Thailand apartment.
Bluetooth at HomeBy Garth Gutenberg
You wake up to the incessant beeping of your alarm clock. Your curtains, which were closed while you were sleeping, are now wide open, letting the sun pour in. Your bedroom light has come on, as have the hallway and bathroom lights. You reach over and hit the snooze button, granting you a meager 9 more minutes of sleep. Just as your alarm clock quiets itself your curtains begin to close again. The stream of lights from bedroom to bathroom shuts off leaving darkness in its wake.
When you finally arise you make your way to the bathroom. As you walk down the hallway you hear the coffee pot begin brewing and the stereo turns on. The sound of your morning radio show pours into the bathroom, ready to accompany you on your routine. As part of your dressing routine you put on your Bluetooth headset. "TV, news" you say. Your radio is muted and your television is turned on to your favorite morning news show. You grab yourself a coffee and sit down for a few minutes of morning relaxation. Your cell phone rings, but it's in the other room, still on the charger. "Hello?" you say into your headset. The television is muted and the call answered. You talk to the caller for a minute, and just as you are about to hang up, your landline rings. You end your cell phone call and say, "Answer phone." Your headset picks up the call coming in on your landline. The television remains muted. During the conversation you need to reference something in an encyclopedia, so you turn to Google. You pick up your web pad and surf away. When you hang up from the call, the sound on your TV comes back on. You finish your coffee and head out the door. It closes and locks behind you as the coffee maker, television and lights shut off and the security system is armed.
In the scenario described above, every device has one thing in common - Bluetooth. These devices talk to each other and are aware of each other's presence. It is as though they are sentient. When your alarm clock turns on it sends a signal to your curtains, opening them, and to your lights, turning them on. When you hit the snooze button it sends another signal telling them to close and turn off. In the hallway there is a Bluetooth enabled motion sensor. It has already received the wake-up signal from your alarm clock, so it just sits and waits until it sees you walk by. At this point it tells your coffee maker to start brewing and your stereo to turn on. Your stereo communicates to various Bluetooth-enabled speakers placed around your house, following you from room to room via Bluetooth motion sensors.
Your headset is paired with both your cell phone and a multi-function access point such as JazzBlueTM. Your voice commands are sent to the access point and it executes them. "TV" sends a command from the access point to your television, turning it on. "News" sends a preprogrammed channel to the television. When your cell phone rings, your headset automatically establishes a connection to it for you to issue voice commands. When you say "Hello" and answer the call, your access point issues the appropriate muting signals to any devices that are currently outputting sound. When your landline rings, it is routed through your Bluetooth access point and your headset establishes the appropriate connection for you. The web pad you pick up could have either a Bluetooth or a Wi-Fi connection to your high-speed gateway. If that Internet connection were to fail however, only Bluetooth would allow you to use the same device to establish a data connection over your cell phone as a backup. When all telephone calls have ceased, any device that was previously outputting sound resumes doing so, thanks to the access point. When you leave, a combination of motion sensors and a Bluetooth-enabled door lock tell your access point that you've left which relays an Off command to your coffee maker and television, and an On command to your security system. You could even go so far as to have a Bluetooth-enabled passkey that did not require you to insert a key into a lock, but rather just enter the vicinity with the device. This key could be any Bluetooth device including your cell phone, headset, PDA or watch.
Is all of this possible today? It is possible to do everything that I mentioned above today, but you'd have to use a lot more than just Bluetooth to do it. You would be using as many as a dozen different technologies and you would probably need a PhD in Electrical Engineering. The question then becomes what can be done today with Bluetooth, and where are the gaps? I will try to break it down by device type and cite a few examples of each as they exist.
ClockThe Bluetooth alarm clock is such a simple concept, yet to my knowledge nothing of the sort exists. If all of the clocks in your home were Bluetooth-enabled you would never have to set one again. You would never have to change the microwave clock during daylight savings. The wake-up alarm that you set on one clock would be transmitted throughout your home so that other devices that are set to perform functions when you start your day (or at any other time) will do so. This also applies to wristwatches, of which none have yet been Bluetooth-enabled.
Home Automation and SecurityHome Automation is an area in which I am very excited to see Bluetooth making an appearance. For years Home Automation enthusiasts have had to deal with X-10 and other wired technologies. X-10 is a protocol designed for Home Automation which allows home electronics and appliances, attached to X-10 transmitters, to communicate through your home's electrical wiring. Some proprietary RF implementations have been created, but there hasn't been much adoption. With Bluetooth we have a global wireless standard, which has low power consumption and is perfect for Home Automation. So far the only company to even mention entering this arena is Hassnet with its JazzBlueTM device. In addition to its access point functionality, JazzBlueTM boasts Home Automation modules that will behave much like X-10 does today, perhaps even using the X-10 protocol over Bluetooth. I look forward to seeing this in practice. Another device that provides an X-10 gateway is the Blue-X from Roving Networks. It provides an X-10 gateway from either a Bluetooth device or wired Ethernet. The Blue-X communicates with standard X-10 modules that are commonly available.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to using Bluetooth modules to replace X-10. Since Bluetooth requires very little power consumption and usually runs on batteries, a module could be put anywhere, including outdoors, whereas an X-10 module requires a power outlet or other wired power source. This simplifies installation, especially for people who rent or do not wish to rewire their homes. On the other hand, if a module has mechanical parts that draw extra power, such as a motorized drape system, it will require an external power source anyway; though I'd like to see solar power introduced in a device like that. Bluetooth is also more reliable than X-10, including native error correction. With Bluetooth you don't have to worry about dirty power, bad wiring or line noise, and its error correction and frequency hopping overcome most airborne interference.
Home Security is following suit and as of yet only the JazzBlue has made an entrance into this market. The convenience of Bluetooth in a security device such as a door lock would be amazing. Is Bluetooth's innate security mechanism enough to prevent thieves from walking up to your door with a Bluetooth laptop and "picking" your lock, or is additional encryption and security required to sit on top of the Bluetooth stack? If additional software is required, it will break the concept of using any device as a key. If the lock itself includes some type of "intrusion detection", the intrinsic security should be sufficient. While any wireless technology is subject to potential hacking, this type of lock would be at least as secure as conventional key locks, and Bluetooth would provide greater security than typical garage door openers, which often allow entrance into the main part of the home.
Home EntertainmentAll television, stereo, DVD and other component device manufacturers READ THIS: Infrared is dead! Bluetooth is the future. Embrace it. Who needs line of sight and other restrictions imposed by Infrared? Without this, people will need tiny Bluetooth-to-IR repeaters scattered around their homes - but that's not really enough. Infrared is not stateful, i.e. it doesn't know if a device is on or off. Also, in the case of home entertainment devices it is a one-way transmission. With Bluetooth we can finally have intelligent automation that will allow us to "turn the TV off" rather than just changing its state and simply hoping that we turned it off. This may not seem like much if you're sitting in front of the television watching its state change, but consider the following scenario:
You are working late at the office and there's a television show you're going to miss. You decide to record it. You have the capability to use a web browser to connect to your home and control any device you like. If your DVR supported Bluetooth, you could just turn it on and start recording. If it were already on it would remain on and begin recording when you told it to. With only infrared, you have to know what state your DVR was already in. If you "turn it on" and start recording, but it was already on, you've now turned it off. Admittedly, there are devices you can put on the power lines to check if your DVR is drawing a signal, but this is where having the aforementioned PhD comes in handy.
So please… Sony, Panasonic, LG and everyone else, I implore you to embrace the future and help to simplify our lives with Bluetooth. At this point I am not aware of any Bluetooth-enabled Home Entertainment devices. I am not aware of any Bluetooth-to-IR repeaters either, but as Bluetooth becomes more prevalent in Home Automation I'm sure that these devices aren't far behind.
The alternative today is to use a Home Theater PC instead of multiple component-type devices. This allows all of your Home Entertainment needs to be serviced from a PC that would, of course, be Bluetooth-enabled. Many manufacturers are releasing PCs running Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition, which wraps this experience up into a nice package; though a Bluetooth dongle is still required. Alternatively, you can just build your own using products like SnapStreamPVS or ShowShifter.
Multi-Function Access PointA basic Bluetooth access point provides LAN access for Bluetooth-enabled devices. A multi-function access point provides LAN access as well as a variety of other access types over a Bluetooth connection. The most robust product yet to enter this arena is the Hassnet JazzBlueTM. Not only does this product provide LAN access, but it also provides PSTN connections (landline), Home Automation and Security modules, a built-in web server and the ability to automatically place outgoing calls if triggered to do so by a security alert. This device is the Swiss Army knife of access points. Having PSTN access means that with a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone or headset, you can place calls over your landline so that you don't incur per-minute charges as you do with your cell. The built-in web server and Home Automation/Security modules rank this device with some of the more powerful Home Control Units costing as much as US$1000. It will be interesting to see what kind of price tag Hassnet applies to the JazzBlue. Unfortunately, the JazzBlue does not provide Wi-Fi access, but with the cost of Wi-Fi routers and access points steadily dropping, this isn't such a concern.
Depending on your needs, a PC could suffice in this area. But if you plan on using it to issue Home Automation/Security commands from a Bluetooth device you'd better don your Engineer's cap, as this is a long and ugly road.
HeadsetThere are many viable alternatives in this arena, and it really depends on what you're looking for and your preference when wearing a headset. Currently, the smallest by far is the Nextlink BlueSpoon, but at US$270 it is also one of the most expensive. It fits right inside your ear and locks in place with a spring. For around US$100 you can purchase the Jabra FreeSpeak which has an earpiece that goes inside your ear canal while the rest of it wraps around the top of your ear. It has a tiny arm that extends underneath your ear containing the microphone. If you prefer an over-the-ear model, you can choose from just about anyone. Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia all have very different looking models, but all are over the ear with a boom. Another innovative design is Sound ID's Personal Sound System. Using their proprietary technology they are able to adjust incoming sounds for maximum clarity, customized to the listening ability of the user. They have a demo on their site that is well worth listening to.
If you're looking for a stereo headset that allows you to listen to music and provides two-way communication there is currently only one alternative. The Openbrain Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headset is a truly innovative piece of equipment. Its features include a microphone, stereo speakers and a built-in MP3/WMA/SBC player with up to 128 MB of memory. The reason that they've included an MP3 player is due to a limitation of Bluetooth. Bluetooth's bandwidth is limited to around 700 kbps synchronous transfer, which means that it delivers around 350 kbps in each direction. The audio stream that is delivered when a 128 kbps MP3 is decoded or a CD is played is around 150 KB/s or 1200 kbps. What this means is that Bluetooth does not provide enough bandwidth to deliver a pure, stereo audio stream. Openbrain has compensated for this by providing a built-in audio decoder that can stream the audio file itself, thus conserving bandwidth. It also doubles as a portable MP3 player (contained in the headphones). The standalone MP3 player has virtually no form factor at all as you are wearing it on your head. This product is truly an ingenious design. My only problem with the product is, well, its color: it is a bright yellow. Personally, I prefer anything I'm wearing on my head all day to be a little more understated. Having said that, I'm sure it won't stop me from getting my hands - er, ears - on one of these once the 128 MB version becomes available.
Cell PhoneBluetooth has made definite headway in the cell phone market as more and more handsets are being released Bluetooth-enabled. Which cell phone is the best? That really depends on your preferences and is outside the scope of this article. It is a constantly changing market and 2003 will introduce myriad new Bluetooth-enabled cell phones. All I can say on this subject is to keep reading www.BluetoothNews.com for future product reviews ;)
Input DevicesBluetooth input devices have begun to hit the market. Logitech has a Bluetooth mouse/laser-pointer and Microsoft has a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. Both of these devices have been done before using proprietary RF. They are not very innovative. Enter the SenseboardTM. This device, by Senseboard Technologies AB, is an amazing piece of equipment for us touch-typists. It is a pair of "clamps" that attach to the inside of each hand between the thumb and index finger to capture your finger movements. It is a go-anywhere keyboard. You don't need to unfold it or set it on a flat surface, and it is Bluetooth-enabled so it works with any device that supports Bluetooth as an input method.
Now let me discuss game controllers. I am a gamer. PC, console or PDA - the platform doesn't matter. For the moment I am going to assume that you also enjoy the occasional game. I'm sure that you have developed likes and dislikes to the various controllers and input methods that you've used. Some are far more intuitive than others, or you have more experience with one. Wouldn't it be great if you could pick one controller that works well and use it on all games on all devices? Admittedly, this wouldn't always work as some games may require specific input methods, but it would be nice to have the option. Instead you are forced to adapt to every device that you play on. Why haven't we seen any Bluetooth-enabled game controllers yet? I have seen it argued that Bluetooth's latency is too great for gaming, where latency requirements are generally less than 30 ms. But according to the Blueooth HID profile specification, "The implementation of the Bluetooth link should add no more than 5 ms additional latency between the user input and the application response over a wired implementation when the Bluetooth HID is in the active state". This should prove more than sufficient for gaming, and is great news for the gaming industry. These devices will be slow to arrive, but they will come. STMicroelectronics will be producing a complete reference design supporting the Bluetooth HID (Human Interface Device) profile (See related article.) Personally, I can't wait to get my hands on a Bluetooth-enabled game controller, because trust me, there's nothing less enjoyable than driving a Porsche 911 down the Autobahn with a stylus.
Bluetooth has the potential to revolutionize the home. Combined with its adoption in the mobile market, Bluetooth could finally be the technology that allows all of our electronics to work together seamlessly and without cables. The possibilities are endless and will open people's minds to ideas that they have never dreamed of.
As all good things must come to an end, so must your day. After returning late from work you come home exhausted and fall asleep in front of the TV. When you awake a few hours later you are so tired you can barely open your eyes and all you want to do is crawl into bed. You gather all of your strength and somehow manage to pull yourself off the couch. Slowly you drag yourself to the bedroom, TV still blaring behind you and your home lit up like a solar eclipse. As you crawl into bed you utter one last word before removing your headset, "Goodnight". At this, your TV and lights turn off, your front door is locked and your security system is armed. You hear the hum of a small motor as your curtains reclaim your privacy, and your alarm clock is reset to wake you in the morning. Life is good.
Garth Gutenberg (Toronto, Canada) is a Senior Application Software Developer for a major financial institution. He also provides consulting in the areas of infrastructure, mobility and home automation/media. His focus is to make people's lives easier through technology.
Garth believes wires should only be used for hanging coats, and paper should only be used in the bathroom.
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