Bluetooth's smart future in telematics

Bluetooth's smart future in telematics

Bluetooth 4.0, the latest version of the standard, includes low-energy technology that gives devices the ability to connect, share or distribute information in real time. That includes simple data-collecting sensors, smartphones and embedded devices in the car. Someday, maybe, Bluetooth sensors can replace some of the meters of cabling that now connect the car's systems, enable greater personalization and even turn the automobile into a mobile health monitor. (For more on telematics and health, see Telematics and mobile health: Meet your personal OnStar.)

Bluetooth Low Energy, formerly known as Bluetooth Ultra-low Power and WiBree, can offer the telematics industry extremely low-power consumption, low cost, enhanced range and interoperability, according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).

Yes, the Bluetooth Sig, which manages the development and evolution of the standard, has also been evolving its branding. The newest nomenclature dubs "dumb" devices like sensors as Bluetooth Smart. Then, the hub devices, which can receive and use information from Smart devices, are branded Bluetooth Smart Ready; they're ready to receive the bursts of data transmitted by devices that include the Bluetooth Low Energy profile.
Low-energy profiles

The low-energy profile has been in the works since 2007, and this latest version of the spec incorporates technology originated by Nokia Labs, according to Suke Jawanda, CMO for the Bluetooth SIG, which took over development and standardization several years ago.

Unlike other Bluetooth profiles that stream audio, for example, from smartphones into headsets or head units, Bluetooth Low Energy is optimized for sending bursts of data, making it potentially an excellent communication protocol for sensors. "This new low-energy technology is targeted toward the billions of disconnected devices using proprietary, niche technology, and bringing them into the connected world," Jawanda says.

Not so fast, says Filomena Berardi, senior market analyst, IMS Research, now owned by IHS. She means that literally. While she thinks that we will likely see strong penetration of Bluetooth 4.0 in the consumer electronics market in two years, she foresees it taking at least five to seven years to become commonplace in cars.

Noting that the attach rate of Bluetooth in smartphones is 100 percent, and that it's also in a significant number of laptops, televisions and other consumer electric devices, Berardi says, "There's an infrastructure already in place. We might see a nice ecosystem, where the head unit has classic Bluetooth and Bluetooth Smart, instead of using a lot of different wireless technologies."

The most likely entry points for Bluetooth 4.0, she says, are tire pressure monitors and keyless entry. While solid proprietary solutions for these already exist, the advantage for OEMs of moving to the Bluetooth standard is that they can use a single solution globally, providing economies of scale.

However, she says, "It has to be pretty robust to warrant OEMs to swap." Bluetooth 4.0, and its various profiles, will first prove itself in consumer devices before making its way into the car, just as hands-free calling did. (For more on wireless technologies, see Industry insight: Telematics and machine-to-machine communications and Industry insight: Telematics and V2V/V2X technologies.)

Going wireless

"The fact that we're so low power changes everything. You can go wireless in areas you couldn't before," Jawanda says. For example, the Bluetooth SIG is seeing a push from auto manufacturers toward taking away at least some wired connections in the car and using Bluetooth Low Energy to connect them.

The Bluetooth SIG is already working on a standard for tire pressure monitors. The idea is to have a Bluetooth Low Energy chip in each tire well sending information from the pressure monitor to a central computer in the car. The information could be shown on the car's display as well.

CSR Technology has Bluetooth 4.0 technologies under development, and Lars Boeryd, director of automotive marketing for CSR, says the company is actively pursuing its applications, including wireless tire pressure monitoring: "The Bluetooth spectrum is the same around the world, so there is opportunity to consolidate into one product one solution." (For more from Lars Boeryd, see Q&A: Telematics, infotainment and the future of the smartphone.)

The company sees more potential in electric vehicles, where manufacturers are trying to squeeze as much performance as possible out of a charging cycle, in part by reducing the weight of the EV. Says Boeryd, "We have seen ways to reduce the complexity of the wiring into the steering wheel or doors of the car using Bluetooth Low Energy."

But the reliability requirements in vehicles are extremely high, cautions Berardi: "I think Bluetooth Smart will never be considered for safety-critical sensors." Tire-pressure monitors are not safety-critical, she adds, but their reliability is certainly more important than that of the infotainment system. (For more on electric vehicles, see Industry insight: Electric vehicles and Industry insight: Telematics, electric vehicles and the connected home.)

Personalization on a key fob

Simply moving the keyless entry fob to a global connectivity standard would create economies of scale, but Boeryd sees opportunities to use Bluetooth Low Energy communications to enable more personalization of the car and infotainment systems.

For example, a smart and connected key fob could store someone's settings for favorite radio stations and volume controls, he posits, so that unlocking the vehicle brings up the preferred infotainment. Family members could have personalized key fobs with stored preferences. This smart key fob also could communicate information to a Bluetooth 4.0-enabled phone, such as where the car was parked.

"You could have diagnostics stored in the key fob and access them on the smartphone," Boeryd says. "There's a lot of interest in being able to offer these kinds of services."

Health meets car

Bluetooth 4.0 could enable some of the farther-out ADAS features automakers have included in concept cars. Bluetooth Smart can easily connect a medical device to the car's systems the same way that it connects your phone so you can stream music.

In 2011, Ford and Medtronic demonstrated a package of wellness applications, including a blood glucose meter that was paired via Bluetooth with the car's Sync system. "They're all speaking the same language. It's just data being sent into an application," Jawanda says.

Boeryd notes that many people are carrying biometric devices and connecting these to Bluetooth Low Energy-equipped systems in the car could provide updates or warnings. For example, if a heart rate monitor showed the driver was in distress, the steering wheel might vibrate or an alarm or warning message could display.

"An indicator in the head unit or dashboard might say, ‘Get off the road as soon as possible and contact a doctor.’ Or, the car could immediately call emergency services via e911," Boeryd says.

Jawanda says the biggest hurdle for auto manufacturers is getting the Bluetooth 4.0 hardware into cars—and writing the software so that it can be updated. "This is a whole new way of thinking for the auto industry," he says. "It's not a hardware conversation; it's more of a software and services piece. The version-four world is all about getting the telematics data into an app and the app turning it into information for the consumer or whomever." (For more on apps, see Industry insight: Telematics and apps.)

Maybe more important, according to Jawanda, is thinking much more broadly about the potential. He says, "Make the car a Smart Ready hub. There's a wealth of data trapped in that car that can be liberated."

Despite all the caveats she's expressed, Berardi says, "There is potential for Bluetooth Smart to be used in a lot of applications that may be undiscovered at the moment. Until you really have the technology and you're using it, you don’t' know what full potential is."

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on apps, see Industry insight: Telematics and apps.

For the latest on apps, visit Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 on March 19-20 in Amsterdam, Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on April 17-18 in Bangalore, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6 and Telematics Russia 2013 in September in Moscow.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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