We’ve seen the future of Bluetooth LE. And it’s taking your temperature.
While Nest is getting the press this week over its acquisition by Google for a cool $3.2 billion, it’s a plucky upstart from the UK that has us excited about how connected devices won’t just slip into the fabric of our lives – they’ll often become works of art and subtle feats of engineering.
The Tempo Thermometer by Blue Maestro might not seem like much at first glance. But as the first in a suite of Bluetooth LE enabled products in the company’s pipeline they’re proof that solid engineering, well-designed form factors and beautifully crafted user experiences can fuse to create a tactile and engaging experience around something as simple as knowing how cold it is outside.
iBeacon is More Than Retail Wayfinding
Bluetooth LE will do a lot more than push coupons to us at the local mall.
The future of iBeacon technology, Apple’s trademarked term for the protocols built into devices and the software services in apps that respond to them, will rest on both the advantages of the Bluetooth low-energy protocol (not least of which are range and battery life preservation) and on its place in a larger ecosystem of sensors.
We were thrilled this week that Airfy (another device we’re in love with) smashed its Indiegogo fundraising goal three times over (and there’s still a few hours left if you want to get one of your own!)
It was proof that the future of Bluetooth LE will rest, in part, on hybrid devices: objects that combine LE advertising with WiFi, say. Or, like the Estimote, that include accelerometers or temperature detectors.
While today we’re sorting out how to build apps that respond to iBeacon devices in a store or coffee shop, tomorrow we’ll be assembling connected spaces from a suite of technologies. The number of use cases will grow exponentially.
What happens when you start playing with the accelerometer capabilities in an Estimote? What happens when you can measure that the door to a store has opened, that the temperature has changed outside and it makes more sense to feature hot chocolate than lemonade, or that the ambient noise in the food court is drowning out the awesome elevator music being piped over the mall’s speakers?
We’ll quickly shift from building experiences around specific device capabilities into figuring out what kind of experience we want to have and finding a mesh of devices to match.
I spent some time chatting with Richard Hancock, the Blue Maestro founder. What was clear from our discussions is that the Tempo thermometer is the gateway into a deeply focused and almost ruthless attention on getting the Internet of Things right.
By launching a Bluetooth LE product with a simple use case it lets the Blue Maestro team dive deep into the challenges and architecture of ‘smart’ devices.
But the Tempo has found a home in some interesting places.
My favorite is actually a local one: a retailer is using it to keep caviar fresh by monitoring the temperature in the display case in which it’s stored. (And no, Toronto isn’t overrun with caviar shops, but the one that we do have is a popular destination for the well-heeled).
The Tempo is also being used in the hospitality industry at hotels, in industrial settings and sports venues.
But while commercial enterprise might seem like the only real ‘fit’ for a fancy thermometer, the Tempo will have a home with consumers too – being sold in shops where it’s bound to gain followers if only because the device is just so damned amazing to look at and touch.
The Tempo is mesmerizing. It’s actually hard to express this in photos of the device: it has a shape that’s more compelling than you perceive at first. It has a level of sheen and a gradation in its curve that somehow just feels right.
I’m tempted to call the shape of the Tempo primal. It evokes an emotional reaction…a playfulness maybe, or a reminder of what it was like when we were kids and wanted to touch stuff, collect rocks, skip stones across a pond.
Just like a car can be more than just transportation and can be rolling art, or a smart phone can be a gem in your hand, the Tempo reminds us that even something as mundane as a thermometer can be beautiful.
But the Tempo has some sweet engineering under the surface as well. It combines a Nordic Semiconductor 51882 chip and a Laird BL600 BLE module. The latter was chosen because of its Smart Basic stack – which makes programming the chipset a breeze with only a slight tradeoff in flexibility.
The device is beautifully engineered. It can even be thrown underwater and is rated to survive for 30 minutes under 1 meter of water. For temperature detection the device is more highly rated than the underlying chip stack with a range that goes from +140 to -40 centigrade.
The User Experience
As a thermometer, the Tempo doesn’t shine your shoes or order groceries – it’s a thermometer. And even though we worry that not every consumer will understand why they might want a Tempo, all they really need is to touch the thing and see a demo to get a sense of its magic.
The temperature sensor in the device records the temperatures over a rolling 24 hour period. You can view this information via the free iOS or Android application. Opening the application will prompt you to turn on Bluetooth if its not already turned on.
Its important to note that since this is Bluetooth Low Energy device there’s NO PAIRING REQUIRED. Turn on the Tempo, open the app and you’re good for up to a year of temperature measuring goodness.
The app will display stats from up to 10 Tempo sensors in range (unless you explicitly remove a Tempo device from the list). The software makes it easy to uniquely label each Tempo device you might have – a boon to commercial or enterprise applications where they might need to measure temperature by region.
The range is quite good and in our tests we had a signal drop off at around 9 meters within our building. Your mileage will vary – our offices have a lot of metal and other forms of interference. When the connection does drop off, a prompt displays the name of the specific sensor that’s been disconnected. When stepping back into range, the sensor simply appears on the device list again.
The software is quite nice and features a number of thoughtful touches:
- There is a temperature alarm that notifies you if the temperature goes above or bellow a specified threshold.
- You can view the current temperature as either a number or on a mercury style graphic.
- The historical temperature graph will display either a 12 or 24 hour line plot based on whether the device is in landscape or portrait mode.
- You can also double tap the line plot to get a list view of the temperatures at one hour intervals.
- Finally, you can email the temperature list from the last 24 hours in pdf format from within the app.
Recent ice storms and extremely cold temperatures in Toronto have played havoc with the city. In these kinds of conditions the engineering of the Tempo would have come in handy: even in run-of-the-mill winter conditions frozen pipes remain a concern for home owners. The Tempo would certainly be well suited as an early warning system to make sure certain areas of the house don’t get too cold.
For the musically inclined it would allow you to keep an eye on the room temperature where you keep your prized six string or piano. For the Green Thumb, the Zen look would certainly be at home. I know more than a few people in the aquaponics and hydroponics hobbyist communities who would be interested in this device.
I can even see it for the HVAC and energy conscious, trying to cut down on their energy bill or see if they can find cold zones in the house.
What’s Next for Bluetooth LE?
OK – we’ll push the metaphor a little here – but the Internet of Things is, um, heating up with Google’s purchase of Nest. This might be an invasion of our in-home privacy by the eyes of the Google juggernaut or maybe it’s a sign that the next frontier is here. We’re betting it’s a bit of both.
But both Nest and Tempo prove our broader point: there is no offline, the physical world is the new channel, and that we’ll quickly move beyond engineering and begin designing experiences around the simplest things and as a result create entirely new ecosystems of value and delight.