Hi all. I checked out the Bluetooth Low Energy Developer’s Preview Conference in Tokyo today and jotted down some notes about each of the speakers and presentations. Here’s the writeup on it:

10:46 am:
Just arrived at this event about 20 minutes ago. The keynote was actually at 9:30 am, but I decided to skip it because it sounded like a yawner. I needed some extra time to feed the dog and take my morning poop. My target was to arrive at 10 am, but I decided to try out a new subway line this morning. It turned into a total disaster where the subways came infrequently and I got lost twice in the underground catacombs. All in all, I lost an additional 30 minutes and missed the second presentation which was Bluetooth Low Energy marketing. Fortunately, I wasn’t too interested in it, since the main presentation would be the technical details of the BLE spec in the afternoon. I arrived just in time for the break in between presentations so I grabbed two cups of coffee and decided to walk around. There weren’t any devices on display and the morning attendance looked a little thin. Probably others had the same idea I did. A nice thing was that they had real-time translators and transceivers with earpieces so you could listen to the presentations in Japanese or English. I asked the person next to me if the transceivers used Bluetooth Low Energy. He didn’t think it was too funny.

11:00 am:
Mika Saren, Nokia

Mobile Phones as Network Gateways

The next presentation is about to start. The speaker is Mika Saren from Nokia. He discussed a lot of phone-centric concepts in wireless sensor networking and I got the impression that BLE is mainly about phones. It makes sense because it would give BLE a huge installed base and increase the functionality of phones. If that’s the case, it might be a master move by Nokia.

His talk focused on mobile phones as a gateway to new types of service that enable data collection from sensors and forwarding to online servers via the phone. It was mostly focused on health monitoring and also sports and fitness where the sensors are worn on the body and transmit data to the phone. I’m not too sure how many soccer players play with their cell phone in their pockets, but maybe I’m just not too knowledgeable about soccer. He did give an interesting example of how a phone that uses BLE can sense your location and change your phone profile based on it. Hence when you’re home, it can switch work calls to voice mail, etc. I would think they could already do this with GPS, though.

 11:17 am
Bluetooth Low Energy for Sports and Fitness
Marco Suvilaakso, Polar

This guy spent way too much time talking about his company. Polar makes fitness technology devices like wrist-worn heart rate monitors and body sensors. They are used by people like triathletes to monitor speed, heart rate, etc. His presentation looked like it was just copied and pasted out of the company’s marketing presentation, and there was even a section on Polar’s proprietary 2.4 GHz wireless protocol. After we got through the marketing part, then he finally started talking about BLE.

He showed a couple of slides about the applications that Polar is looking at using BLE for like wrist-worn transmitters that collect data from body-worn sensors team sports. This sounded kind of niche-y but he also had mentioned that fitness equipment manufacturers (ie: Lifecycle) could integrate BLE and work with Polar if the transceivers can reach a low enough cost point. If BLE takes off, then they will be able to have their body sensors communicate with mobile phones which act like a gateway to some online service. The image of Nike suddenly popped into my head which is what I think he meant.

The last section was the most interesting to me. He mentioned the work being done on the BLE health and fitness working group. They are currently working on a device profile for this segment and data from any low energy health device can be converted to the same ISO/IEEE 11073 data format used by HDP (I assumed this meant Bluetooth Health Device Profile) and USB personal healthcare class for data compatibility outside of Bluetooth. Apparently, this was mandated by Continua. Hmmm...I didn't even know there was a USB class for health devices.

By now, one thing is clear. The phone is going to be at the center of this spec. He mentioned that the dual-mode Bluetooth chipsets won’t cost any more than the regular BT radios. If so, then BLE might turn into a monster when the spec is stabilized and chips start rolling out. However in my opinion, there is still a lot of risk. USB tried the same thing with their On-The-Go spec which incorporated a host and device in the same chip. They underestimated two things:

1)    The willingness for companies to spend money to write new software
2)    If the host + device chips will cost the same as the device only chips, then the device chips could be sold for less.

I’m interested to see if BLE can navigate past these hurdles. Note: I was on the failed OTG spec committee…*sigh*

 11:39 am
Etsuro Nakajima, Casio
Bluetooth in Casio Watches

When this guy took the podium, he immediately established his alpha geek in the realm of watches. I am the proud owner of a Casio G-Shock and many versions of the former calculator watches, but it’s obvious this guy eats and breathes watches. His first slide was interesting in a non BLE way. The actual number of watches being sold has been decreasing since 2000 or so. Turns out that people are relying more on their cell phones for timekeeping and either don’t bother with watches or don’t buy them in the quantities they used do. The other interesting slide was that the total revenue from watches has been increasing steadily. This means that people buying watches are buying expensive ones, most likely for conspicuous consumption.

I wish I could go into the details of his watch presentation which was fascinating and went into the history of watches at Casio, different graphs on watch face size versus features, etc, but it’s a bit offtopic and probably not too interesting for anyone that’s not into Casios.

He made some pretty strong statements about BLE, the most memorable being: “Bluetooth Low Energy is the future focus of Casio”. Some of the features he’s envisioning is getting the time sync signal from the phone (which I assumes gets it from the cell base stations), phone control via watch, and sensor monitoring. The phone control thing sounds really cool. How fun would it be to send callers to voice mail by pushing a button on your watch.

He also mentioned some applications like an out-of-range warning from the watch when valuables go beyond a certain distance. This could be like car keys, wallets, etc. This was mentioned by the Nokia guy also, but I think it might be kind of tough. They are all planning to use RSSI for the proximity measurement, but from what I’ve seen and personally experienced, the RSSI can be influenced by obstacles, interferences and a bunch of other things. I remember Zigbee had the same concept back in 2005 but it kind of died off…Some of the other applications are things like a “panic button” that will automatically dial an emergency number on your cell phone (or to a hospital/call center), and an alert system that can be used to issue systemwide alerts, like if you’re in range of a missile hit. Don’t laugh, that was his actual example, and pokes some fun at North Korea who is constantly threatening to fire missiles at Japan.

The main point he was trying to make is that BLE is a better fit for the watch market than Bluetooth was and can help reverse the trend of declining sales volume of watches. He’s looking at BLE to pair watches with cell phones and piggyback on cell phone sales.
The last thing he kind of mentioned under his breath is that Casio is also looking into wearable devices. You listening out there, Mr. Faludi?

That's it for part 1. I'm going to continue with the writeup later. I need to cook dinner for my wife 'cuz that's the kind of man I am...a pussy... 

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