Vendors promise convenience, productivity

Bluetooth, a wireless technology that is just gearing up for widespread adoption, showed its colors here this week in a wide variety of demonstrations at the Bluetooth Developers Conference.

Though many applications were still in the research stage, they hinted at everything from instant messaging between PDAs (personal digital assistants) in an ad-hoc network to simple hands-free phone calling in a car.

Bluetooth is designed to offer a low-speed, short-distance wireless communications capability with low-cost, low-power requirements and simplicity of use. Although early promises of a world-changing technology have given way to more realistic goals, engineers are hard at work finding ways consumers and businesses may use Bluetooth once prices come down.

Researchers for Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV showed a Bluetooth-equipped PDA roaming from one Bluetooth access point to another, an application that could allow visitors to a public space such as a convention center to maintain Internet or LAN access throughout the building without wires. Philips researchers also demonstrated CAMP (Context-Aware Messaging Platform), which could be used in airports or shopping malls to send information to users based on their identity, location or activities. As an example, Senior Scientist David Walker said travelers could arrive at an airport, log in to the Bluetooth network and immediately receive their personal flight information. CAMP could even be used today, with the information being sent to a Bluetooth phone in the form of SMS (Short Message Service) messages.

Visteon Corp. demonstrated a Bluetooth network linked to a car's audio system, which would allow drivers to use a mobile phone hands-free -- including voice-activated dialing -- without a phone cradle. Phone cradles are inconvenient because phone models change over the typical lifetime of a car, and different drivers of the same car may have phones that require different cradles, said a Visteon engineer who asked not to be named.

Car makers want to offer the option beginning next year, in models ranging from low-end to luxury, the engineer said. The system will undergo interoperability testing at a Bluetooth event in January with phones from vendors including Nokia Corp. It uses a Bluetooth profile for hands-free phone use that is expected to be completed next year.

Toshiba Corp. Product Manager Duc Dang demonstrated instant messaging between two Toshiba PDAs in an ad-hoc Bluetooth network. Each PDA was equipped with a Bluetooth network access module on a Secure Digital (SD) card, which is much smaller than a Compact Flash card. Toshiba will introduce the SD Bluetooth module in the first quarter of next year to go into PDAs it will roll out in the U.S. in the next few weeks. The PDAs will also have a Compact Flash slot, and Toshiba already makes a Compact Flash Bluetooth module.

Roving Networks Inc., a Silicon Valley startup, demonstrated a home Bluetooth network with a simple application that made a PDA into a universal remote for turning devices such as lights and an electric train on and off. However, the company's main thrust is to equip its access points, the central communication hubs for Bluetooth networks, for custom applications in vertical industries. Already, Roving is working with one customer on a network of Bluetooth-equipped sensors that can monitor conditions such as heat and vibration in a manufacturing facility, said Chief Technology Officer Narayan Mohanram.

The Bluetooth Developers Conference ends Thursday.

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