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Developers Wanted: Bluetooth Low Energy is the Future of Wearables | Cypress Semiconductor

Developers Wanted: Bluetooth Low Energy is the Future of Wearables

LAS VEGAS — The groundwork has been laid. The tools are in place. And first-generation wearables, including thousands of smart watches and fitness trackers, are already being worn by tech-loving consumers.

But for the next generation of these sleek gadgets, the industry needs creative developers to dream up more contextual wearable experiences, according to a panel of experts on Bluetooth® Smart at the International Consumer Electronics Show this week.

Bluetooth Low Energy, which is branded Bluetooth Smart, is a technology protocol that sips incremental power and conserves battery life by shutting down when it’s not in use.

This feature is especially important for devices that come in slim form-factors, such as wristwatches, eyeglasses and other body sensors.  

“Since power efficiency is more important to wearables than to any other product, Bluetooth Low Energy makes wearables a possibility,” said Vincent Gao, program manager of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. “We want developers to help us define the future with Bluetooth Smart.”

That’s a position that’s championed by Broadcom. The company’s WICED™ platform (which includes WICED Smart™ with Bluetooth Low Energy), enables developers and entrepreneurs to affordably convert just about anything into a smart device. 

To get the creative juices flowing, Gao shared several use cases for smarter wearables that can offer more meaningful information.

Today’s crop of first-gen wearables are fairly limited in what they can do: They can collect data, mimic key features on a smartphone, and act as go-betweens for apps and mobile devices. But future wearables are expected to be even smarter by offering up more nuanced and contextual information, as well as enabling personalized experiences.

For example, if a toothbrush contained Bluetooth Low Energy technology, parents could be alerted when a child skimps on the recommended three minutes of brushing, Gao said.  That’s just one possibility. Imagine a wearable device that communicates with other connected gadgets in a room to adjust to the occupant’s lighting, music, and climate preferences upon entering or even a workstation computer that locks down when the owner walks a certain distance away from it.

With the technology in place, developers are free to create these sorts of applications or others like them and Gao said the ecosystem’s growth is dependent on developer creativity.

To make it easier for developers to build these apps, the latest version of Bluetooth Low Energy – which debuted last month – offers several advantages over the previous generation of Bluetooth, namely up to one year battery life (or longer), automatic pairing and dual-mode communication.

The dual-mode communication is important for moving the technology forward into new applications.

In an “open” mode, it makes Bluetooth pairing easier (no more “discovering” Bluetooth devices). In a “closed” mode, it can bring greater security to data transfers.

“Now developers can broadcast public information in advertising packages that don’t require a connection to receive,” Gao said. “Or they can send and receive private connection packages with only trusted and secured devices.”

Such updates make low-energy wearables smarter, more secure, and more functional for home, health, fitness, and mobile applications, Gao said.

To make wearables easier to create, development tools such as Broadcom’s WICED Smart and Anaren Atmosphere make rapid prototyping possible without an engineering degree or big budgets. All you need is a $20- $30 development kit, the included control apps, and an idea.

“Gone are the days of a $50,000, six-month prototype,” says Mark Bowyer, business development manager at Anaren, a Rochester, NY-based maker of software that help non-engineers prototype Internet of Things and wearable devices.

A new concept and a lot of tinkering is all it takes, he said. “These tools enable rapid development on a budget.”

What’s more, developers needn’t worry about backward compatibility, Gao said. Phones manufactured within the last three years likely already support Bluetooth Smart and, by 2018, more than 96 percent of all smartphones are expected to support it, according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

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