Bluetooth Low Energy and the Internet of Things

How-to

Having spent some time looking at Near Field Communication (NFC), my colleague Martin Woolley (@mdwrim) and I (@jcmrim) became really excited when we came across the new Bluetooth Low Energy APIs in BlackBerry 10.

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“Bluetooth Low Energy”, I hear you say. ”I know all about Bluetooth since that’s been around for many years. It’s what I use to connect my headset to my BlackBerry device and play music though my sound system. What’s this ‘Low Energy’ thing?”

Well, the Bluetooth specification went through a number of changes a couple of years ago when Bluetooth 4.0 was released. Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) is an addition to the classic specification that allows ultra low power devices to participate in Bluetooth Networks.

What does “Ultra low power” mean? Well, Bluetooth LE is designed to support devices that would typically be powered by battery cells like the one in this picture.

That means that such devices can have incredibly small footprints yet can be full participants in a Bluetooth network alongside larger devices like tablets or smart phones such as BlackBerry 10 smartphones.

It also means that this awesome technology is an enabler for the “Internet of things” where such devices can participate in an Internet populated with all sorts and sizes of devices ranging from large servers to intelligent thermometers; from tablets to intelligent sensors in your running shoes; from mobile phones to intelligent light switches in your home.

Imagine being able to use your BlackBerry 10 smartphone to tailor your environment to your preferences as you move around. It’s already capable of knowing where you are and Bluetooth LE gives it the capability of communicating with smart devices in your home or car. Imagine returning home and having your BlackBerry 10 smartphone communicate with your lighting to set it appropriately; your home entertainment system to play your favourite playlist; and your house’s environmental controls to set just the right temperature!

The diversity of potential applications is quite staggering. Sports, wearable devices, home automation, automotive and healthcare, are just a few of the sectors recognising the potential of Bluetooth LE.

And … BlackBerry 10 is a perfect fit here! So, we got to thinking how we could demonstrate how easy it is to integrate Bluetooth LE technology into your BlackBerry 10 application!

In order to provide some focus for this activity we acquired some Bluetooth LE technology and tools including a Wahoo Blue HR device to see what we could do with it. There are a number of similar devices on the market but this seemed like a good starting point. It’s a small, lightweight electronic device, encased in plastic. It has an adjustable strap to allow you to strap it around your chest and the strap has two conductive pads which need to be in contact with the skin.

The nice thing about Bluetooth LE is that there are standards for devices like this that support what’s called the Heart Rate Profile and we managed to develop a nice, even though I say it myself, self contained BlackBerry 10 application that interacted with the heart rate monitor and displayed it’s data.

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Take a look at the images below! The image on the left shows a typical trace for a healthy person like Martin who went on a long, exhausting bike ride to gather this data.

The middle one is probably from a small, hyperactive animal like this hamster; whilst the one on the right probably comes from a hibernating hedgehog I came across in my garden.

Rest assured that no small timid animals were involved in our testing other than in our imaginations!

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If you want to know more then check out the following resources:

  • A much more detailed article describing the theory and practice behind this application
  • The complete source code for this application on Git Hub
  • A video on YouTube showing an overview of the theory and practice behind this application

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short note and hope it has piqued your interest to find out more about Bluetooth Low Energy and how it can be integrated into your BlackBerry 10 applications.

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