There was big news out of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) this week, with details on direction finding functionality available in Bluetooth 5.1. Much of the following discussion around the web focused on the use case of making it easier to find items with Bluetooth tags or radios, such as a phone or a small tracking device on a set of keys, for example.
That’s great, of course. I have a Bluetooth tag on keys that never seem to be put in the same place in my house. Using a mobile app on my phone, I can typically find the keys in a few minutes using a distance function: The app shows how close or far I am from the missing keys. That’s a direction in a limited sense and Bluetooth 5.1 enhances that for greater accuracy.
But the big picture here — at least in terms of a smart home — might be missed if that’s the primary use case example. I’m thinking we’ll see something that’s long overdue: Truly personalized presence detection.
This passage from the Bluetooth SIG announcement is what got me thinking about the potential:
Positioning systems use Bluetooth to determine the physical location of devices and include real-time locating systems (RTLS), such as those used for asset tracking, as well as indoor positioning systems (IPS), like those for indoor wayfinding. Today, Bluetooth positioning systems can achieve meter-level accuracy when determining the physical location of a device. By adding the new the direction finding feature, these positioning systems could improve their location accuracy down to the centimeter-level.
Granted, the likely first solutions using the new direction-finding feature of Bluetooth 5.1 will probably be seen for inventory or other large-scale asset tracking. Maybe large retail malls will enhance indoor positioning with it for pinpoint product locations. Eventually though? My hope is to see this used in the smart home.
Personalized presence detection is key for the smart home to have the right context to be truly smart. That’s not all it needs, but it’s a gaping hole today, as is true AI and ML for the smart home to become “smart”.
For a smart home to cater to, adapt to and react to the people inside it, a system needs to know who is the home and exactly where they are. Solutions for this today include motion detectors and cameras, but there are limitations with both of those.
A motion sensor can determine, for example, that someone just entered my office, but it can’t guarantee that it was me. So any automated environmental settings — lights, music, window blinds, or temperature — would fire up based on my preferences, even though the home isn’t sure that I’m in the room. Cameras solve this from another perspective but require facial recognition models that generally rely on the cloud, while also opening up potential privacy issues.
A small Bluetooth tag using the direction-finding capabilities of Bluetooth 5.1 could effectively work and overcome both of these limitations.
That tag, registered to an individual user, could be a small device clipped to my belt or in my pocket, or it could simply be the phone I always carry. Either way, the tag says, “This is me!” A tag or phone for every person combined with stationary Bluetooth radios in the house — dare I say “beacons“? — would tell the smart home exactly who is where in the house, providing that personalized context for services for the right person at the right place and right time.
Context is key for any smart device. And while today’s smart homes have a limited sense of context when it comes to someone either on location or away from home, it’s not enough for a true smart home. New solutions using low-power Bluetooth at the centimeter-level of precision could monumentally change that.