Bluetooth gains ground in non-consumer applications

Mention the word Bluetooth and most people think of the wireless technology that connects their mobile phone to a hands-free headset. However, as consumer Bluetooth usage continues to grow at a rapid rate more and more industries that were initially resistant to using an unproven technology are recognising the benefits that Bluetooth can bring.

Bluetooth is an open specification for seamless, wireless, short-range data and voice communications. At its launch in the late 1990s, Bluetooth was touted as being a general cable replacement technology, particularly suited to applications where high data rates werent essential. Mobile phones have driven the massive uptake of the technology over the last five yearshelped particularly by the change in law regarding the use of mobile phones in cars. The majority of use in mobile phones has been for the voice aspects of Bluetooth.

However, it is Bluetooths data capabilities which are most interesting to industry-particularly its ability to replace serial cables. It is this ability which is changing industrial, medical, and retail environments and is giving Liverpool based Brainboxes the opportunity to apply its existing serial card development knowledge to providing convenient cable replacement solutions. Brainboxes offers a series of products that can literally replace serial cables with no further user interaction.


Cutting the cable

Retail and banking customers have successfully used Bluetooth to simply replace cables to customer input devices. This has been especially important given the rise in chip and pin technology. Placing devices at a point where they can easily accessed by customers often requires trailing cables over several feet. This is inconvenient, unsightly, and expensive. Bluetooth has given these customers a cost effective way to cut the cables and improve their customer experience in the process.

Bluetooth is also rapidly gaining usage in the industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) sectors. They are used to dealing with technical products and are using Bluetooth to solve daily system monitoring, control and data collection problems in innovative ways. Bluetooth is the only true cable replacement standard in the world and with its reliability and security, ISM applications that meet the three Cs criteriacable impossible, cable averse or cable inconvenientare being successfully implemented using wireless technology.

Cable averse and inconvenient certainly applies to power engineers, for whom safety is also a paramount concern. Brainboxes has worked closely with an electrical company to ensure safety of its engineers when working on electricity poles. The Brainboxes BL-521 Bluetooth adaptor enables engineers to interact with remote terminal unitsthe control panels found up electricity polesat a distance of up to 100 m. Hence they can sit safely in their car rather than having to climb up the pole.

Boosting efficiency

Remote access is also a boon for a major electronics company that uses Brainboxes BL-565 to wirelessly control traffic lights using a Pocket PC 2003 PDA connected to a Bluetooth module. This increases efficiency of the field engineers who can quickly and easily access the system from their vehicle. It also highlights a fourth C'crime prevention! This solution allows the engineer to work in a secure environment, substantially reducing the theft of PDAs.

In the medical environment patient monitoring was traditionally dependent largely on cables and a diversity of interface standardsall of which contribute to the complexity of healthcare. The often frantic nature of medical environments means that cables frequently get damaged and have to be replaced. Now Bluetooth products are used in several University Hospitals to provide wireless data transfer from patient to portable medical monitoring equipment. It is recognised that a cable-less environment increases safety for both personnel and patients, especially in sensitive areas of hospitals.

Bluetooth also provides fast and efficient monitoring of portable health care equipment in ambulances and other mobile medical environments. The quality, reliability, safety and intuitive software at the point-of-care is making it easier for hospital system integrators to incorporate Brainboxes products into both existing and new system configurations.

A broadening market

As the selection above shows, Bluetooth is making significant inroads into a wide range of diverse industries. Brainboxes provides resellers with support in selecting the right product for their customers applications, including custom development where required. Brainboxes offer a range of Bluetooth products that meet a variety of needswhether USB, CompactFlash or RS232. Many of the devices require no software, automatically adapt their baud rate to that of the data sent to it and can be up and running within ten minutes. Simple and easy to use configuration utilities, for Windows or Linux based operating systems can be used to change factory set options if necessary. Brainboxes also provides devices that can reach up to 100 m rather than the standard 10 m achieved by many Bluetooth products.

Stephen Evans (pictured) is managing director of Brainboxes, a leading PC communication card developer and manufacturer. The company develops and owns all of its own core technologies, including USB, CompactFlash, PCMCIA, RS232 and PCI products.

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