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Tech Watch: Bluetooth Gets Smart

November 19, 2014 | Comments

When Bluetooth technology first appeared in cell phones back in 2000, it was met with bewilderment. Blue...what?

(The curious word is actually a historical reference to Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson, the medieval king of Denmark famous for uniting Scandinavia.)

Today, Bluetooth is synonymous with wirelessly connecting (or "uniting") devices, most commonly phones with cars so you can make and receive calls safely without having to touch the phone.

Bluetooth also provides a convenient, cable-free way to stream music stored on your phone to wireless speakers and headphones or show photos and videos on a Bluetooth-enabled TV, and it's fueling the explosion in wearable electronics such as smart watches and fitness bands.

As useful and convenient as it is, Bluetooth is limited by its relatively short range (about 30 feet). But things are about to change thanks to a new technology called CSRmesh that enables an "almost unlimited" number of Bluetooth Smart (a.k.a. Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE) devices to be networked together and controlled from a smartphone, tablet or PC - as opposed to making a point-to-point connection between two devices as is common today.

The ability to network Bluetooth devices has interesting implications for home automation. At least one company has already introduced "smart dimmers" that will allow homeowners to control Bluetooth-enabled lighting throughout the home directly from a smartphone app, without having to rely on an external network or complicated control infrastructure.

In addition to being cost-effective, the new mesh technology also makes it possible to set up a Bluetooth-based smart-home network that can be easily expanded. Continuing with the lighting example, you could start by installing smart dimmers in the foyer and add dimmers to other parts of the house over time at your own pace. Other possibilities include streaming music on Bluetooth speakers around the house and using your smartphone to control any number of other Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Harnessing Bluetooth for home automation also makes sense because it consumes very little power, making it ideal for sensors that could potentially operate for years on the same kind of "button cell" batteries used for watches. What's more, a Bluetooth-powered mesh system is smart enough to send messages to other Bluetooth devices in the network, allowing lights to be addressed individually or in groups and facilitating preset scenarios where certain conditions trigger a specific lighting mood or pattern.

Only time will tell whether Bluetooth has what it takes to gain a foothold in the smart home, but if Samsung's recent introduction of a mesh-network-enabled Bluetooth LED light bulb is any indicator, the technology may have legs.

To learn more about the latest home automation technology and options, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.