Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has become a key building block for the Internet of Things, and chip makers are working to make it an even better fit by using the technology to further reduce power consumption of devices and helping developers implement it.
Applications have been a key ingredient in making smartphones a huge success. Vendors are hoping to repeat that recipe for IoT, with semiconductor companies such as ST Microelectronics coming up with tools to make BLE, a set of specifications for reduced-power wireless networking, easier for developers to use.
ST has launched an offering for voice over BLE, which includes the necessary software, components and development tools to integrate voice control in wearables and home-automation systems. Voice control can aid battery life by minimizing touchscreen usage, while improving ease-of-use, according to ST.
Apple's Watch and smartwatches based on Google's Android Wear are already using voice control with some success. These devices lack a keyboard and mouse and a large touch screen, which makes good voice control really important. By making BLE easier to implement ST wants to make it available to a larger audience of developers. To help them get started, the company is offering BlueVoiceLink SDK for download, free of charge.
ST isn't the only chip company working on customizing Bluetooth for IoT applications.
ARM last week announced a more energy-efficient IoT package that includes its Cortex-M processor, mbed OS and a Cordio BLE radio. Energy efficiency is important because it has an effect on how affordable and practical it will be to deploy a product.
On its part, ARM earlier this year acquired Wicentric and Sunrise Micro Devices to help it develop Bluetooth products that are efficient enough to be powered using energy harvesting.
To help boost the popularity of Bluetooth among developers, the standards body Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) is working on the Bluetooth Developer Studio. It's available as a beta now, and will be generally available in the fourth quarter.
The Studio's drag-and-drop features let users pick the Bluetooth functionality they need instead of having to write everything from scratch. The tool generates code for integration with Bluetooth chipsets, as well. Apps can be tested on virtual and physical devices. If the standard test features aren't enough, developers can write their own scripts.
The SIG has also started the 2016 Bluetooth Breakthrough Awards competition. The winners will get to show their products, applications or prototypes at the International CES trade show in January. There is a special category open to high school, college, and post-graduate students.
The entrants are meant to highlight Bluetooth's role in the Internet of Things. The deadline for submissions is in November and entrants will be judged on innovation and ease of use.
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