Bridging Bluetooth and the IoT

This is an adaptation of the Matchbox talk we gave at Bluetooth World 2016, Levi’s Stadium, California.

Let’s start with this unfortunate term: Internet of Things (IoT). At Matchbox we prefer to think of networks of things (with no upper-case letters) rather than a universal Internet of Things. However, ‘IoT’ will do for now when we want to refer to the myriad interconnected smart devices, gateways, and servers. Especially in the consumer space, many of these networks have a Bluetooth component. Whether it’s a wristband talking to a phone, or smart kitchen scales, Bluetooth is a common and necessary ingredient. If you accept that Bluetooth is the endpoint of a larger network of systems, then you may well ask what those networks look like. Who builds them? What do they do? What standards and protocols do they use? How secure are they?

Internets of Things?

Matt Turck of VC firm FirstMark has an eye-catching chart showing the IoT landscape. This chart groups dozens of company names by the role they play in the overall Internet of things. Have a look and marvel at the constellations of names, and realize there is global blossoming of IoT frameworks. It seems that every week there is a new entity vying for a piece of the Internet of Things. Old behemoths of the industry, scrappy upstarts, telecoms companies, security companies, virtualization companies: everyone wants to be part of the plumbing as we put sensors, chips, and radios into everything and connect it all up.

Suffice to say, it is no longer enough to create a smart device, make sure it supports Bluetooth LE, and wait for the punters to line up. These days you have to make sure your dream gadget is fully capable of connecting to any number of IoT systems. Already we see promising signs that makers understand this need. In our audience at Bluetooth World we had somebody creating a Bluetooth LE dog training collar. Of course they also offer a companion app, but more interestingly, they are thinking of exposing an API for remote access to some features of their device.

Plug-in Power

This was just one of many innovative teams attending Bluetooth World, and who came to hear about Bluetooth Developer Studio (BDS). So what is BDS, then? Think of it as tool for turning your idea for a Bluetooth-enabled device into a testable model in software, then in hardware, either on a development PC or any number of dev boards.

Apart from scripting and rapid design features, BDS also offers a great plugin framework. This lets you create, import and use server or client plugins to ‘express’ your Bluetooth scenario on a specific OS or chipset, and more. The plugin framework is JavaScript-based, and outputs text and files.

A BDS plugin could let you:

  • Create the stub code for an iPhone, Android, or Windows app. Here is an excellent post about how we wrote a plugin to generate a UWP companion for a Bluetooth device.
  • Document your Bluetooth device.
  • Translate the Bluetooth features of your device to an IoT protocol like MQTT
  • Generate an interface for your Bluetooth device to connect to an IoT framework*

No Device Is An Island

This brings us back to that colorful chart full of names and technologies for weaving together connected devices, sending them messages, measuring what they’re doing, monitoring and managing them across stacks and servers and protocols and firewalls. The multitude can seem overwhelming, and maybe you see a risk in choosing the wrong framework – after all, you want your device to be compatible with the major and popular systems and not go down an evolutionary dead-end.

Well, this is where Bluetooth Developer Studio, with its plugin framework, comes in. Think of these plugins as a reliable automated translation tool that gets written once, and into which you fire all the beautiful things that make your Bluetooth LE device unique and useful. Time to market? Reduced. Reliability of output? Higher. Risk of error? Lower. Switching between different protocols and frameworks? Much easier!

Regardless of which IoT system you want to connect to, the BDS plugin framework is a quick, safe, and robust way to make sure your device can play with everyone else. Making it easier to connect Bluetooth LE devices to the IoT – who could want that not to happen?

*Web Bluetooth is an interesting development on this front. The github project is here. This work-in-progress opens up the possibility of secure remote communication with your Bluetooth Low Energy device, exposing the LE features of your device via a web interface. Or how about Alexa Voice Services from Amazon? We are just beginning to understand how voice is its own platform, separate from the mobile operating systems and smartphones that are so central to the IoT.