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Competitors seek killer application for Bluetooth Low Energy

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A wireless barbecue, a helmet that tells onlookers how hard you hit your head and a bicycle speedometer - makes one wonder how we survived without Bluetooth Low Energy.

Those are three of the nine finalists in the Bluetooth Innovation World Cup, which this year is searching for a killer application that will make everyone dash out and buy Bluetooth Low Energy - though we're far from convinced the lure of a key-fob multimeter is going to sell the technology.

Bluetooth Low Energy emerged from Nokia's WiBree standard, which had its roots firmly in the "wellness" industry - where one's running shoes link to one's GPS to ask one's MP3 player for some upbeat music as the pace slows towards the end of one's regular jog. If you're the kind of person to whom exercise consists of a few days of intensive gym visits whenever the man-breasts get too obvious then this isn't for you.

Sadly it doesn't seem to be for anyone else either. But having inherited the standard from Nokia, and integrated it, Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) felt obliged to pony up prizes it values at $50,000 (£31,218) for the best ideas - not prototypes, or designs, just ideas.

Two hundred and seventy ideas duly arrived, which have been narrowed down to nine. We're struggling to imagine how bad some of the 270 must have been given the limited appeal of the finalists, but there's money at stake here so let's look at those finalists:

In the Home Automation section, we have an electricians' multimeter in a key fob because "Many engineers don't carry a multimeter with them because the devices are too big". But that's quite sensible compared to the wireless sensor for checking the barbecue temperature without getting up from your chair. Slightly more sensible is a level-and-leak sensor for LPG tanks, but only slightly more sensible as wireless connections to such tanks are already commonplace.

In Heathcare there's wireless monitoring of blood oxygen, though how many people on an oxygen supply need a wireless connection we're not sure - especially one which will fail when they get 10 meters away. Similar problems can be applied to an ear sensor used to detect if the wearer is still moving around, and the third finalist in the section whose proposal is far from clear but involves the delivery of audio instructions to the hearing impaired.

Sports applications for Bluetooth Low Energy include embedded force sensors in tennis racquets and the like, with data streamed to viewers' TV screens so they can see how hard the ball was hit. That's probably our favourite, and certainly a mark above the more-accurate push-bike computer and the helmet with in-built impact sensor so anyone within 10 meters can instantly see how badly you hurt your head rather than having to walk over and look (at the helmet, or your head, as injury dictates)

Those finalists will be paraded next week, at the electronica show in Munich. At the show the judges will select a winner, who will get $5,000 (£3,122) in cash, vouchers for the Bluetooth Qualification Program and assorted promotional opportunities, which will no doubt be of huge value if they decide to develop the idea.

That's not an obvious decision - these ideas don't really need Bluetooth Low Energy, in fact most of them don't need to exist at all: the world will get by perfectly well without them. Bluetooth's killer application was the phone headset. Once that became ubiquitous then a load of cool stuff came along - keyboards, mice, stereo headphones and so forth. Bluetooth Low Energy needs a similarly-compelling reason to exist, and a wireless barbecue isn't going to cut it. ®

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