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From Speakers to Sporting Goods to Home Security, Wireless Was Everywhere at 2014 International CES

The recently held 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, NV showcased the latest developments in many areas of consumer electronics, but one common theme that ran through a vast number of new products was connectivity using some form of wireless technology. Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) solutions were omnipresent, as well as low-power Wi-Fi interfaces, such as 802.11n (finished units, eval kits) and the new 802.11ac for high-speed data transfers. These wireless interfaces are now connecting wireless audio and video products; health, sports, and fitness products; home security devices; home appliances; and many other products.

Many wireless audio systems sported interfaces ranging from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in many portable systems to the fairly new WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) wireless standard streaming interface for home entertainment systems. WiSA-compliant speakers and source devices operate in an almost unused radio frequency spectrum within the international unlicensed (U-NII) 5 GHz radio band and require dynamic frequency selection (DFS) procedures. Some of the attributes of WiSA systems include 24-bit uncompressed audio streams (HD audio quality, perceptibly 50 percent better than CD quality audio); a sample rate that matches the content, 32, 44.1, 48, and 96 ksamples per second for realistic sound; rapid error detection and recovery for smooth, uninterrupted sound; a 5 ms fixed latency for perfect lip synch and game response; and under-160 ns speaker-to-speaker delay to ensure theater-quality sound experience.

Many of the Bluetooth systems also included a near-field communications (NFC, also see the TechZone article “Getting Started with NFC”) tag to simplify the pairing process to a smartphone or other NFC-capable system. Sporting goods included running and exercise systems that leveraged smart watches to collect data from wireless sensors, tennis racquets and basketballs with embedded motion sensors and Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) interfaces to collect data from swinging the racquet or bouncing the ball and then transfer the collected data.

Even personal health systems, such as toothbrushes and eating utensils that sense brushing or eating motions and collect data and forward it to a smartphone or tablet, were demonstrating their ability to improve our health. Around the home, Bluetooth- or Wi-Fi-controlled locks and front-door video doorbells and BTLE-controlled LED light bulbs allow users to protect their homes and monitor access. In the kitchen or backyard, Bluetooth accessories such as thermometers or crockpots let users cook food to perfection.

In the audio world, portable speakers provide much richer sound than possible with a smartphone, tablet, or laptop computer. Enabling such devices, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC make it easy to link speakers to a device. Offering multiple speaker options, the NYNE family from BOSS International Group includes a waterproof portable speaker, the Aqua, which can play for up to 10 hours, thanks to a 2,200 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery, while delivering 10 W with the sound adjustable with four preset equalizer settings (Figure 1).

Figure 1: A waterproof Bluetooth-enabled speaker, the NYNE Aqua from Boss International, delivers up to 10 W and can run for up to 10 hours.

Aqua plays music from any Bluetooth-enabled device within a 33 ft. range, without a wired or dock connection, so your phone or tablet can stay easily accessible and dry. It is IPX7 approved (meaning it can be immersed for up to 30 minutes at a depth of up to 1 m), so whether it falls into the water or floats in a pool, Aqua still pumps out the tunes. Additionally, Aqua is shock resistant to protect it from drops and everyday abuse. The NYNE Aqua can also be used as a speakerphone accessory thanks to a built-in waterproof microphone to answer incoming calls. It can also play voicemails and hear text notifications. The speaker measures approximately 9.5 in. wide by 5.2 in. tall by 1.6 in. deep and has a 3.5 mm auxiliary input for an optional wired connection for non-Bluetooth devices.

In the sporting goods area, Babolat demonstrated a connected tennis racquet that incorporates motion sensors with a BTLE wireless interface. The multi-axis sensors and accelerometer, incorporated into the handle, capture and store the player’s movements, giving the players access to every face of their game from stroke type to ball impact to endurance, technique and power. It is charged via USB, and a charge lasts for up to six hours.

When the match is over, information can be transmitted to a smartphone, tablet or computer using the Bluetooth wireless interface, or via a USB port to a computer. A Babolat app program running on the phone or other device analyzes the data and helps the user improve their game.

For the kitchen, a Bluetooth-connected Smart Cooker, the Instant Pot (iPot) developed by Ace Sensor Inc. and Double Insight Inc., is a wirelessly-programmable electric pressure cooker that works in conjunction with an iOS or Android application that allows users to remotely control the cooking process and view the progress graphically. Included in the iPot are a thermal sensor, dual pressure sensors, and an electromagnetic sensor for lid position detection. By moving the control panel to the smartphone or tablet, users get an unlimited number of controls to add more control functions.

Smart kitchen and barbecue thermometers offered by iDevices Inc. leverage an embedded processor to handle the temperature settings and provide a BTLE interface. The Sous-Chef thermometer has a 150 ft. Bluetooth range and can provide up to 150 hours of monitoring using just two AA-size batteries. Also available is the iGrill and the iGrillmini, smart meat thermometers that let users track the “doneness” of the meat they are cooking (Figure 2). A three-digit LED display provide temperature readout and employs a proximity sensor that turns on the display only when someone is within viewable range; this helps conserve power from the coin-cell battery.

Figure 2: The iGrillmini, a Bluetooth-connected thermometer can link to a smartphone or tablet with a range of up to 150 ft. The application that comes with the iGrillmini provides graphing capability to provide exportable graphs of grilling or smoking processes.

To help keep track of food intake, last year HAPILABs introduced its HAPIfork, a Bluetooth-enabled smart fork that can help modify eating behavior by tracking and recording the speed and number of times the fork brings food to the mouth. This year the company unveiled the HAPIspoon, which also measures speed and frequency of food consumption. Data collected during a meal can be uploaded to a smartphone or other device using the Bluetooth interface to track progress in adjusting eating habits.

Helping to clean up what someone eats, the Kolibree Bluetooth-connected toothbrush lets users keep track of their brushing habit and find ways to improve the thoroughness of their brushing (Figure 3). Internally, the toothbrush uses an MSP430 microcontroller from Texas Instruments, an InvenSense multiaxis motion sensor, a CSR Bluetooth wireless controller, and about 1 Mbyte of Flash to store the brushing data.

Figure 3: The Bluetooth-connected toothbrush from Kolibree includes a multiaxis motion sensor that collects data about the user’s tooth-brushing routine and then can transfer the data to a smartphone application to help the user evaluate the effectiveness of their brushing routine.

Keeping homes secure is also going wireless, with multiple companies offering smart locks. The Goji Smart Lock works with various wireless options: Wi-Fi, ZigBee (see the TechZone article “Zigbee a Global Wireless Standard”) and Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth Smart devices are designed to gather a specific piece of information, are all the windows on my house locked, for example, and send it to a Bluetooth Smart Ready device built to Bluetooth v4.0 specifications with Generic Attribute Profile (GATT)-based architecture and a dual-mode low-energy radio). The electronic deadbolt lock also has a built-in camera to send homeowners real-time picture alerts via text or email to view the person trying to activate the lock. The smart lock and electronic keys leverage bank-level security algorithms with 128-bit encryption. By using the Wi-Fi interface, uses can control the lock from anywhere in the world and allows users without Bluetooth devices to still control the lock (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The smart lock from Goji can communicate using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or ZigBee wireless interfaces and includes a camera that allows the homeowner to view whoever comes to the door.

Providing a video doorbell, Skybell includes a motion sensor, infrared night vision, speaker, and a microphone and provides still pictures and video, as well as audio to allow the homeowner to speak to the person at the door. It connects to iOS and Android devices using Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n. The Skybell requires connection to an AC power source rather than use batteries since it is typically in a fixed location (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The SkyBell video doorbell includes a motion sensor as well as an infrared light source so that people coming to the door activate the device and can be seen, even in the dark. Using Wi-Fi, the SkyBell can communicate with iOS- or Android-based mobile devices or a standard computer.

LED light bulbs with integrated Bluetooth interfaces from Tabu, the Lumen TL800, allow users to control the lamps from a smartphone. With the company’s application loaded onto the phone, users can control brightness and color (RGBW). Able to screw into a standard E27 socket, the lamps deliver more than 50 W of light, yet consume just 7 W.

These are just a small sampling of the innovative connected wireless products demonstrated at the 2104 International CES. Additional examples included toys, health and fitness products, smart watches, and much, much more.