Bluetooth vs Bluetooth Low Energy

Bluetooth

Ok, like most people in our modern age, you know that Bluetooth is good and you know that if you find yourself choosing between a product with the little runic “B” logo on the box and one without – you must go with the one that has it. Your car has it, your computer has it, hey – maybe even your refrigerator has it, but what the heck is Bluetooth anyways?

Well, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Bluetooth is a standard protocol for sending information wirelessly between nearby electronic devices. It isn’t the electronics themselves, but rather the rules that are followed by the little gadgets. Think of it like the rules of the public roadways. There is a protocol, or set of laws, that everyone (mostly) follows: green means “go”, red means “stop”, don’t park in front of fire hydrants… Because of these rules, cars of every make and model can harmoniously navigate common roadways to take people from point A to point B.

Bluetooth is a lot like that for short-range wireless electronic signals. Ok, well it’s a little more complicated than that. Bluetooth developers also had to develop the equivalent of the internal combustion engine so that there was a vehicle to follow the rules, but I think you get the point. Now Bluetooth was originally developed for things like wireless headphones and morphed into plenty of other applications over the years, but still mostly is for things within the 30-60ft range. The rules themselves are not very interesting to talk about, but what they allow you to do is – especially some of the latest stuff!

While the main Bluetooth protocol was being pushed for further improvements in how much data it could send and how fast it could send it, this whole Internet of Things (IoT) trend was on the move. Although bigger better faster was nice for IoT, smaller cheaper lighter was even better. Remote IoT devices would rather sip power from tiny coin cell batteries than guzzle it from the unlimited source coming through bulky wires plugged into a wall outlet. Enter Bluetooth Low Energy.

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Bluetooth Low Energy

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), is like a subset of rules that allows for very different types of wireless traffic. Kind of like the bicycle lanes, footbridges and crosswalk signs nestled around 70mph eight-lane interstate highways. Still very useful, but different. BLE made it possible for tiny sensors and circuits distributed all over a local area to report in information wirelessly over long periods of time without needing to new batteries or recharging, or heaven-forbid having to shackle them to an outlet like some barbarian prisoner.

Photo by Tetsuya Tomomatsu on Unsplash

BLE beacons are one such device. These are little battery-powered gadgets that regularly chirp out a tiny data signal to anything nearby that might be able to listen. Initially developed by Apple, these signals are picked up by things like smartphones. The data packet from the iBeacon, for example, triggers an app on the phone to notify the user that they just so happen to be standing by the shoe department right now and by the way, there just so happens to be a special one-hour sale on those stunning red heels they just “pinned” on Pinterest.

Too Big Brother-ish?

How about putting a “smart” BLE collar on Fido? The chip tracks his activity and eating habits then uploads it to your phone so you can help keep “man’s best friend” in peak health. Even more, you can monitor your own health: your activity, your breathing, and blood oxygen level, heart rate, glucose monitor, you name it. All this data can be collected from remote sensors on or even in your own body and uploaded to your doctor.

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash

Similar to the shopping mall beacons, BLE signals have already been used to track general locations for things like your keys. A strong signal means you’re getting warmer… Recent advancements though even allow detection of the specific direction and distance of the signal. So instead of knowing “my keys are somewhere in this room”, Alexa can tell you “your keys are on the floor 112 inches behind you”.

Does my ficus need water?

Is the garage door closed?

Where is my wallet?

Is the beer cold enough yet?

Did someone move my stapler?

Who let the dogs out?

Maybe not that last one (unless you already had the culprit BLE tagged). But think about it… temperature, light, voltage, frequency, magnetic field, moisture, motion, sound, pressure, weight, gravity… tons of conditions can be measured and transmitted by tiny, inexpensive BLE devices. They require very little power and can bring a wealth of functionality and convenience to people through novel new product designs and features. Consider what harnessing BLE might do for you.

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Photo by Alexandar Todov on Unsplash

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