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UL: Bluetooth 4.0 opens up limitless possibilities to a new generation of manufacturers

Bluetooth 4.0 is beginning to have a real impact in the market – and the possibilities are virtually limitless, comments James O’Reilly, Bluetooth Qualification Expert for UL Verification Services in the UK. “The new core specification of Bluetooth was released a few years ago now, but it’s now starting to make strong headway most notably with the iPhone 4, one of the first smartphones to incorporate Bluetooth Low Energy. That’s been followed by the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 and the iPads as well.”

But whereas Bluetooth technology could be a drain on battery life, it was nevertheless fine for smartphones and tablets that already incorporate a good size battery. The real potential for Bluetooth 4.0 lies in applications for really small devices demanding low data and a long battery life for use in everyday life. It’s opening up a myriad of new markets of which sensors are just one example.

“Take an alarm system monitoring a door: when it’s locked, when it’s opened etc. Instead of wiring in sensors, you can now use a tiny one cell battery and sensor that lasts anything from a few months to a few years,” said James.

“Heart rate monitors are also a great example of the enormous potential set to be realised by Low Energy Bluetooth,” he continued. “Patients will be able to go home, use an app to monitor their heart rate throughout the day, and then upload it to the internet for their doctor to keep eye on. That’s just one of numerous ways Bluetooth 4.0 can revolutionise the healthcare industry, which is in itself just a single sector. So you can imagine the potential applications across the board are pretty much limitless.”

The next generation of products coming to market ranges hugely, from central heating systems that monitor the temperature of a house to products that keep an eye on your cooking. The automotive industry is also set to benefit, as James went on to outline.

“Cars contain a huge amount of wiring, something the latest release of Bluetooth can play a significant role in reducing. Take the one tiny example of using sensors in seats to detect if someone is sat there and ensure they are wearing their seat belt. You just need to ensure the sensor can be easily changed or, even better, use the energy generated by sitting down to recharge it so it never needs replacing.”

In fact, it may only be a matter of time before sensors become cheaper to use than wiring, especially with the rising costs of copper and aluminium. And according to James, we are only witnessing the beginning of this new generation of products – and new companies.

“The whole point of Low Energy is to target different markets, so we’re seeing a whole host of new companies beginning to get involved with Bluetooth for the first time. They are quick to pick up the technology and incorporate it into their products, so we want to make sure that when it comes to certification they can sell their products with peace of mind. From the very beginning, that’s exactly what UL has been there to do - get them through that process as quickly and painlessly as possible.” explained James.

“We can guide them to make sure they not only adhere to requirements set by the Bluetooth SIG, but also meet all the appropriate standards that vary from market to market around the globe. The earlier we get that process started, the better.”

With a growing number of manufacturers working to their own specifications, it is no longer enough to just advise manufacturers what components and modules to use – UL’s role has developed to clarify which qualifications customers need to budget for and help them to avoid any costly surprises just before release.

“The last thing a company needs is a large cost for testing because they haven’t thought of this or that,” agreed James.

“If a product hasn’t been qualified as expected, it can also result in delays that may be significantly longer than expected - not just a few weeks but a few months. Customers have expected shipment dates which are costly to miss. We make sure they aren’t.

“In short, UL is here not just to inform customers about what’s expected, but also to help protect them from eventualities they may not have expected or factored in.”

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